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Funding for Great East Japan Earthquake survivors' mental care falling

Nurse Yuko Kijima speaks with a man with dementia who lives alone in Shinchi, Fukushima Prefecture. (Mainichi)

Six years after the Great East Japan Earthquake, funding for survivors' mental care is on a continuing downward trend.

    In disaster-hit coastal areas, work has proceeded to set up residential districts on high ground, and this spring most of the areas covered by Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuation orders will have been reopened to residents. The number of evacuees around the country, as announced on Feb. 28 by the Reconstruction Agency and dated to Feb. 13, was down 3,775 people from the previous month, to 123,168. However, even if evacuees are able to return to their pre-disaster homes, it does not mean that their lives will return to pre-disaster norms. Psychological care remains necessary, but funds for this are falling each year.

    In a neighborhood of new high-ground homes in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Shinchi, 49-year-old nurse Yuko Kijima from Homon Kango Station Nagomi (visiting nurse station Nagomi) stops her car, and without hesitation rings a doorbell and announces her presence. She is part of a support service targeting people who drop out partway through psychiatric care or stay holed up in their homes, among others.

    "Even if it looks like the area has recovered, there are many people carrying psychological trauma from the earthquake disaster or suffering from depression," says Kijima.

    At another home she visited, a man in his 60s with dementia lay in his room surrounded by trash and partially eaten food. Other than the visiting nurse service, "No one else comes here," the man said.

    Disaster recovery funds are being spent on psychological care in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, including on the Fukushima Prefecture nonprofit organization that manages Homon Kango Station Nagomi. However, government spending on this care has dropped from 1.8 billion yen for the three prefectures in fiscal 2013, to 1.4 billion yen this fiscal year. In fiscal 2013, the NPO received about 49 million yen from the care budget for its outreach programs, but for this fiscal year it received around 24 million yen, although the number of people it is treating has barely changed. Because of this, the Fukushima Prefectural Government has moved money from a separate fund for suicide-prevention, much of it to cover staff expenses.

    A representative for the Fukushima Prefectural Government's department for welfare for disabled people says, "Every year we ask the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to not cut our subsidies. But due to the previous fiscal year's work results not reaching (the level called for by) the funding, the subsidies gets cut, even though the reason the results do not reach (the level called for) is that we can't get enough staff."

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