Two years after the powerful earthquake and devastating tsunami hit Japan, the Japanese Red Cross—with financial support of the American Red Cross—is helping to provide emotional support to children who are still dealing with their traumatic experience.
A five year-old girl who behaves normally at school acts out violently at home against her grandmother, who is caring for her, demanding to know when her mother will return. The girl, who lost both her parents and her sister in the tsunami, doesn’t understand they are not coming back.
The 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit Japan on March 11, 2011, triggering a tsunami that left behind miles of devastation and destroyed homes, buildings, roads and entire communities. Survivors were left to deal with not only the physical destruction, but the mental trauma as well, particular young children and the elderly.
Immediately after the disaster, the Japanese Red Cross responded with health and emotional support services. But the need to help people deal with their emotional trauma is ongoing, said child psychiatrist, Dr. Junko Yagi, who works in Iwate, one of the worst-affected prefectures.
“Some patients are only now starting to develop dissociation and depression symptoms,” Dr Yagi said. “They seemed to be actively moving forward with their lives but in reality, they were in a state of hyper-arousal. They are exhausted.”
Providing psychological education is one part of Dr. Yagi’s job. She helps patient develop coping strategies to deal with loss and trauma. For the little girl, Dr. Yagi works with her at a weekly play therapy session, to help her more easily express her emotions. Dr. Yagi has also worked with the grandmother to give her a better understanding of how children relate to death and to enable her to communicate with the child better and to express her own grief.”
This therapy is currently available in three centers in the prefecture – Miyako, Kamaishi and Kesen. Dr. Yagi is one of the key figures in the process of setting up a center for children’s mental health care in the Iwate Medical University which is being funded by the Red Cross.
“In this way, we will be able to get the benefit of training for the local doctors who are dealing with these cases by leading experts in the field, and also more young doctors will be encouraged to train as child psychiatrists,” she said, adding that a shortage of medical staff had been a serious issue even before the disaster.
This part of Japan has long had a history of being relatively under-developed in terms of health infrastructure.
“The building of a new center - with support from the Red Cross - will not only help the people affected by the disaster,” said Dr. Yagi. “But it will change the whole picture of children’s mental health care in the region.
Donations to American Red Cross Help Response in Japan
Since the 2011 earthquake, donations by the American public have helped hundreds of thousands of people with appliances for their new homes, rebuilt hospitals and nursing schools and provided emotional support to survivors.
These donations enabled the Japanese Red Cross to provide nearly 338,000 survivors with appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and rice cookers for their temporary housing.
The Red Cross also has provided transportation, medical beds and vaccinations for the elderly and educational support, temporary school gyms, indoor playgrounds, and summer camps for children.
In addition, American Red Cross donations have helped rebuild Japan’s hospitals, medical centers and nursing facilities. Three temporary hospitals and one medical center have been reconstructed, and two permanent hospitals and a social welfare care center are expected to open early this year. U.S. donations are also helping to rebuild a Red Cross nursing school that will train specialists in disaster medical care.