A bus crash in the town of Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, ended up a tragedy that took the lives of 15 people. Almost all of the passengers were university students who were using a break from school to go skiing. Many young people, including those who survived the crash and the friends of those killed, have suffered psychological blows.
When this kind of tragedy happens, people are quick to call for emotional care for the survivors, but there is not so much that can be done for people who have suffered psychological shock from disasters, accidents or crimes. Or rather, there is not much that needs to be done.
Often, people say that psychologically wounded people "want someone to hear their stories," and counselors who see them say, "You can say anything you want to me." However, this is not the right response. There are surely times when the shock for survivors has been so great that they don't want to say anything, or don't know what to say.
When these people are nevertheless urged to "go ahead and talk," and gradually say something, the questioner then digs deeper, saying, "Then what happened?" or "How did you feel then?" This is actually quite a burden on the survivor, and sometimes overly intrusive care attempts can actually become a new source of stress and delay the person's recovery.
What is more important than listening to the survivors' stories is staying by their side without being too close, and saying, "Call me if you need anything." We mustn't be too intrusive in trying to do this and that before the person themselves says they want something done.
Additionally, it is not a "psychological illness" when a person who went through a terrifying experience remembers it later and starts trembling or becomes unable to eat. These are normal responses anyone would have. In most cases, these symptoms will gradually go away with time. However, for recovery it is necessary for the person to rest, sleep and eat well, and for others to take over meal preparation and work in their place.
Therefore, what is first necessary to help the survivors or families of the victims in a disaster like the recent bus crash is not saying, "I'll listen to your story," but saying, "Are you eating properly? Are you sleeping? Shall I bring you something warm to eat?"
My hope is that the students injured in the crash and the friends of those students who died can eat, sleep, receive the calm support of their family and friends, take their time and gradually get better. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)