Tsunami left mental scars on 1 in 4 kids


Researchers in a report released Monday said 1 in 4 nursery school children who survived the 2011 quake and tsunami has psychiatric problems and warned the effects could last a lifetime if left untreated.

The researchers found 25.9 percent of children aged between 3 and 5 suffer symptoms including vertigo, nausea and headaches, with some exhibiting worrying behavior such as violence or withdrawal.

The health ministry study said kids were scarred by losing friends, seeing their homes collapse, being separated from parents or by the sight of the huge walls of water that crashed ashore.

The team, led by professor Shigeo Kure of Tohoku University School of Medicine, said young children who do not receive care could develop more serious problems later in life.

These could include developmental disorders and learning disabilities, which would have a knock-on effect on academic achievement and employment prospects, it said.

More than 18,000 people died when the 9.0-magnitude Great East Japan Earthquake sent towering tsunami across the Japan’s northeast coast in March 2011. The nation’s worst postwar disaster was compounded by the three reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant that forced tens of thousands of people to flee from radiation.

Researchers looked at 178 children whose parents or guardians agreed to cooperate in the three prefectures hit worst by the catastrophe — Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. They used an internationally recognized child behavior checklist and met with the children between September 2012 and last June.

The level of children who need psychiatric care is more than three times that seen in other parts of Japan unaffected by the disasters.

Officials at the health ministry and medical organizations involved in the study could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.

“It is known that children need (psychiatric) care right after an earthquake disaster, but this study was done more than a year and half after the fact, so that concerns me,” said Makiko Okuyama of the National Center for Child Health and Development, who participated in the study.