Post-traumatic stress in Japan

By Stephanie Saviola

In the wake of the crises Japan faced throughout the last weeks, including a tsunami, earthquake, flooding, fires and a high risk of radiation exposure, more than a half-a-million people are severely injured or displaced, now living in shelters.

On top of this triple-crisis the country experienced, victims might be at risk for something far more severe. Some medical experts are now saying the fear and stress instilled in

Japanese citizens will be more damaging than the harm they face from potential radiation exposure. Hundreds of thousands of victims are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

According to a Washington Post article from March 14 featuring psychiatrists who studied the effects of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the negative psychological effects are magnified in unpredictable ways. Experts said the aftermath of those events have affected multiple generations, inflicting a sense of hopelessness.

As Americans, we are fortunate to have so many sources available to us in times of disasters and should help whenever we can. People shouldn’t be making ill-mannered jokes using social media or feverously watching the loop of “disaster porn” that plays repeatedly on television outlets that  further heightens the fear of the situation. Yes, we should be paying attention, but not  with a lackadaisical, nothing-can-be-done attitude.

A radiation expert at the International Epidemiology Unit in Rockville, Md., John Boice Jr., said in the article, “The average amount of radiation that victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were exposed to would increase the risk of dying from lung cancer by about 40 percent. Smoking a pack of cigarettes a day increases the risk of dying of lung cancer by about 400 percent.” The risks of radiation exposure might not be as pertinent as officials previously predicted, so helping the affected areas get back on track and rebuild and reestablish a sense of normalcy is most important.

It’s hard to treat PTSD because it’s difficult to pinpoint when it will happen and whether it will affect people on a variety of levels.

I’m in no way downplaying the severity of the situation; it’s beyond horrific. But like in many chaotic situations, the media can be guilty of adding to the frenzy. It’s almost like a car crash you can’t look away from.

Instead of sitting around mindlessly, watching the TV, we should be proactive about the situation and offer whatever help we can. If PTSD is going to impact thousands of people, we should be helping these citizens find the stabilization they had prior to the catastrophic events.

Donating money to nonprofit organizations helping overseas is best in a time like this. Check with the organization to be sure they are established and credible because sadly, in situations such as this people can take advantage of Internet scams.

For more information on how to help visit