This year marks my 30th as a psychiatrist, and among the changes that have taken place since the beginning of my career is the way that patient rooms are set up. There were numerous long-term patients in the psychiatric ward when I was young, and although it might now be hard to believe, many of their rooms were Japanese-style ones.
Six or eight patients would stay in these tatami mat-lined rooms, which were more akin to halls, and where patients seemed to be living communal lifestyles rather than being hospitalized. And, as is a matter of course in such rooms, patients would pull out their futons at night and go to sleep.
Making my rounds, patients would sometimes ask me to stay for tea, and so I would do so while watching television with them. That was enjoyable, but patients who were unable to become accustomed to life there would sometimes reveal to me at such moments that they were having an extremely difficult time.
There was absolutely no privacy there, as patients were completely visible to everyone around them -- even when they were lying down to rest or just becoming lost in thought. Indeed, not having one's own personal space is a source of significant stress.
Many of these Japanese-style rooms were later replaced by ones equipped with beds, where patients were able to have their own personal space. Nowadays, such areas have become partitioned off using curtains, ensuring even further personal privacy.
Right now, numerous individuals remain in emergency shelters in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures. Most of these locations are wide-open spaces such as gymnasiums, and some people are staying there with no sort of partition to separate them from others.
Naturally, such persons are experiencing difficulties with everyday tasks such as changing their clothes, or being unable to fall asleep at night since they have never before experienced sleeping amidst a large number of people.
Because this is a time of emergency, people are of course not prone to complaining about small infringements upon their freedom. At the same time, however, living together in a large space together with numerous other individuals is likely something that many people find to be a significant source of stress.
And yet, while disaster survivors may be able to say things like "I have nothing to eat," they find it harder to voice concerns such as "I'd like to have a partition between myself and the person sleeping next to me."
Once the aftershocks stop, people will return to fix their damaged homes, while others will move into temporary housing facilities. In order to help prevent the stress from their evacuation experience catching up with them at that time, it is necessary for people to make efforts to protect their privacy as much as possible while they remain in the emergency shelters.
One single divider or paper screen -- anything will do. And for those evacuation centers that do not have such partitioning in place, can the government not provide them with simple panels?
For disaster survivors taking emergency shelter, it is important to create an atmosphere within which they can relax as much as possible. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)