Need for mental care for children in disaster areas facing crucial phase
In areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, many children suffer anxiety disorders for such reasons as the deaths of relatives in the disaster and subsequent drastic changes to their living conditions.
It took three years after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake for the number of primary and middle school students requiring psychological care in connection with the earthquake to peak, and so the need to provide children affected by the March 2011 calamity with such mental care is entering a critical phase.
According to a survey by a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry study team, which released its findings earlier this month, about 30 percent of children in the three Tohoku prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima aged 3 to 5 at the time of the disaster exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as flashbacks of their horrific experiences.
The more painful events a child has experienced, such as witnessing his or her home being swept away by tsunami and losing friends, the more likely the child is to show PTSD symptoms, according to an analysis of the findings.
Many children are under great stress because they suppress their sadness and other disaster-related feelings out of consideration for people around them.
It is extremely important for homeroom teachers as well as school nurses to be mindful of the well-being of the students by creating a classroom atmosphere in which they can confide their worries to teachers. If a child is suspected of developing psychological anomalies, it may be necessary for the problem to be diagnosed by a medical institution.
The truancy that has become conspicuous at schools in the disaster areas is also worrisome.
Power of neighborhoods
According to a survey recently conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun in 42 cities, towns and villages in the coastal regions of the three disaster-struck prefectures and in the vicinity of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, 2,414 students enrolled at publicly operated primary and middle schools refused to go to school during the school year that ended on March 31, 2013. That was an increase of 76 from the figure just before the disaster.
About half the municipalities surveyed cited the impact of the earthquake and the nuclear crisis at the TEPCO plant as reasons behind the rise in truancy. Some students reportedly were distressed about attending school after being repeatedly shunted from one place to another because of the nuclear crisis.
The Yomiuri Shimbun survey’s findings are particularly disturbing, given that truancy has declined on a nationwide basis.
Children’s parents and other guardians in the disaster areas are often on the verge of a nervous breakdown because of the instability of their livelihoods.
Both the central and local governments should improve counseling arrangements through such steps as increasing school social workers, who would visit children’s homes and help improve living environments.
As they have spent a long time living in temporary housing with little floor space, many children have difficulty finding sufficient time to study at home.
In the town of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, the nonprofit organization Katariba has been running Onagawa Kogakukan, an after-school tutoring course in cooperation with the local board of education. About 30 percent of the town’s primary and middle school students attend.
Instructors at Onagawa Kogaku- kan, including a former lecturer at a preparatory school, inform the children’s guardians and their schoolteachers about what the children are learning there. This undertaking seems to be designed to help improve disaster-affected children’s scholastic abilities on the strength of the collective effort of local neighborhoods.
Cooperation between the government and public sectors should be encouraged to ensure a good learning environment for children.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 10, 2014)