Recently, I have been receiving a lot of telephone calls. The calls are from municipal government workers based in prefectures such as Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, and since last year, Kumamoto and Oita -- all areas that have been affected by major earthquakes -- who call a hotline that my fellow counselors and I have been operating. The calls are free of charge, and of course, completely anonymous.
The calls from the Tohoku area have been coming in for six years now, starting in the period immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Nowadays, there are fewer calls that relate directly to the psychological trauma caused by the earthquake and tsunami, but it is clear that many of the callers' lives have been affected by what happened on March 11, 2011.
For instance, one of my callers once said, "I'd planned to quit my job and move to my husband's place in another part of the country. But I'm still helping out with local recovery efforts here." Another caller told me, "Ever since 3/11, my child has been a recluse who hardly ever says anything." With calls of this nature continuing to come in from the Tohoku area, it is clear that the shadow cast by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami is still affecting the lives of many in that region.
However, if one thinks about it, perhaps it is not only those in Tohoku who have been affected by the earthquake and tsunami. What if the disaster had never happened? Would Japan have been a country of individualistic people, showing no solidarity with one another through slogans such as "kizuna" (bond) and "Tohoku, let's keep trying"? Or as countries across the world became more self-obsessed with slogans such as "Brexit" and "America First," could Japan have been a role model in keeping an open mind and thinking about others?
But there is no point thinking, "What if things had been different?" The earthquakes happened. We need to recognize those who were hit hard and those who are assisting in reconstruction. And what we can do is to continue spreading the message that we haven't forgotten about them, and that if there ever is something we can do to help, we will do it.
Of course, one never knows when or where a major earthquake will hit in the future. The people who are helping out others today might be the people who need to be helped tomorrow.
It is important for those related to the recovery efforts in Tohoku not to overdo it. When things become too overwhelming, it is crucial to pause and take a break. In such moments, psychiatrists like myself are on hand to offer support through our telephone consultation service.
I still sometimes take on shifts with the telephone consultation service. In my heart, I say to all the callers, "You're doing a good job. There might be a day when I will need to be helped as well. And if that time comes, I will make sure to ask for help, so please, don't hesitate to ask for help when you need it." (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)