The consultation room is a microcosm of the world. This is something that I have always maintained, ever since my early days as a psychiatrist.
People have come to me with conditions such as depression -- reflecting social problems including bullying and economic disparity -- while other people have visited me with anxiety or insomnia, triggered by the sight of a shocking news item they have seen on television. In addition, when Japanese people were captured and killed by the extremist organization Islamic State (IS), some people came to me in a shaken state with symptoms such as panic.
Recently, as a result of the situation in North Korea, scary words such as "armed conflict" and "pre-emptive strike" have been heard on the news. As a result, one might have thought that people would have visited me saying things like, "I'm so scared of missiles," or "I'm worried that Japan might get caught up in all this," but that hasn't been the case.
I have yet to meet any patients voicing these concerns. Upon asking some of my long-term patients, "Has anything worried you after watching the news?" many of my patients replied with the answer, "I try not to think about it."
This made me wonder. Why do people who are sensitive to changes in the world say, "I try not to worry about it," when referring to scary news stories? I have yet to analyze the reasons in depth, but I think that, basically, people do not react excessively to events that have not happened -- which is a good thing.
However, speaking on the same issue, another person said, "I've already got enough to worry about," which was a comment that made me think. It made me realize that people have numerous worries and struggles in their everyday life, leaving very little room to worry about heavy news items.
Indeed, people who are depressed -- as a result of working in sweatshops for example -- and who cannot find the time to get treated, may not even have the time to watch the news. People who are exhausted from looking after their elderly parents, might just consider "North Korea and America" as events happening in a far-away world.
With fewer patients reacting to television news with comments such as, "Will Japan be OK?" or "Will my kids be alright? I can't sleep," I wonder if this is a good thing. Or, does it just mean that people's everyday lives have become so challenging that they no longer have the capacity to worry about the news?
I cannot answer this question now. However, I do think that the changes in people's reactions to the news are something that should not be ignored. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)