Hokkaido children need mental care for stress caused by intense quake
MUKAWA/ABIRA, Hokkaido -- Some children who experienced the recent intense earthquake in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido are showing conditions of acute mental stress due to fear caused by the trembler and trouble associated with life at evacuation centers.
Although public and private efforts have begun to care for these children amid concerns that they might develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), experts warn that long-term commitment is vital to support the youngsters.
"Glass shards are falling," is now often said by Yuen Masuda, 7, who experienced the earthquake in the town of Mukawa in Hokkaido, near the epicenter. The jolt recorded a full seven on the 7-point Japanese seismic intensity scale. Yuen is a daughter of Nayuta Masuda, 37, chief priest at a local Buddhist temple.
Yuen was sleeping in the second-story room of her home when the earthquake hit at around 3:07 a.m. on Sept. 6. The shaking was intense but no glass broke there. The girl, however, has not been able to sleep in her room since then, and remains uneasy. "I guess she is so afraid of the earthquake that images of disorder fill her mind and she doesn't know what to do," says her father.
Masuda opened up his temple and its precinct in a bid to create a place to care for local children until Sept. 18, when schools resumed classes. Yuen is coming back to her former self through interaction with volunteers and her classmates.
In the nearby town of Abira, Taiki Ikeda, 1, often cries around 3 a.m., since the quake hit around that time about two weeks ago, according to his mother Shiho, 28. The family first evacuated to a local elementary school for two days but moved again to their parents place near the city of Otaru in western Hokkaido in consideration of trouble little Taiki may cause to other evacuees. They eventually returned to Abira after the electricity and gas were restored. "He must be afraid of the quake so much. I hope that the experience didn't leave lasting scars on his mind," said Ikeda.
Local governments, meanwhile, have started to offer care programs for children affected by the jolt. The town of Abira opened a play space at a local exchange center on Sept. 13, where certified child care workers and clinical psychologists offer consultation services for children and their parents.
Yoshiki Fukuhara of the town board of education says that local parks are closed because play equipment may collapse, and the town government hopes the play venue will be a place "where children can ease their stress."
Yuzuru Kawashima, a psychiatrist at the National Disaster Medical Center specializing in mental stress caused by natural disasters, explained that people tend to develop acute mental stress conditions for about one month after a disaster, and that is a "protective reaction for the mind to return to normal."
Kawashima also pointed out the need to provide continuous, vigilant care for children who experienced the strong quake. "Those conditions may develop into PTSD if left unattended. There is also the possibility that differences in the recovery time of each family can lead to continued stress," he said.
The Hokkaido Prefectural Health and Welfare Center is providing a telephone consultation service to those affected by the quake at 011-864-7121 (in Japanese).
(Japanese original by Hiroshi Endo, Sendai Bureau)