• Kyodo

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The health ministry has dispatched mental health care teams to assist people left homeless by the Hiroshima landslides, making use of a new disaster program for the first time.

Disaster Psychiatric Assistance Teams (DPATs), made up of psychiatrists and nurses, were established in April 2013 after the public mental health support system was found insufficient in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Three teams were dispatched to Hiroshima last Friday at the request of the prefectural government, and another team arrived on Monday.

They had conducted counseling for 26 people as of Tuesday and took such measures as prescribing sleeping pills, prefectural officials said.

The DPAT specialists examined evacuees exhibiting symptoms such as rambling or incoherent speech, or anxiety, coordinating closely with local health workers who in the aftermath of the disaster offered medical consultations at all evacuation centers in the area.

Among the disaster victims who had sought help as of Tuesday were those who felt uncomfortable in the unfamiliar environment of evacuation centers or who said they could hear the sound of a landslide, generating distress.

Hiroshima officials said they will increase the number of mental health specialists if evacuees are forced to stay in the centers for an extended period and their mental health deteriorates.

“There’s a risk that those who were in good condition immediately after the disaster could become exhausted and mentally distressed,” said Dr. Mayumi Saeki, a DPAT member.

Saeki, who also heads a prefectural mental health and welfare institution, said that emotionally distressed people, if left alone, are likely to develop insomnia or more severe disorders, and encouraged them to seek help from the team members.

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