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Thursday, 8 March 2012

Doctors of the World help survivors of last year's tsunami cope with their grief and rebuild their lives in Japan

Class activites
It is the 1st anniversary since Japan was hit with one of the most powerful earthquakes in history, together with a tsunami, the disaster set off a nuclear explosion.  The destruction caused over 15,000 deaths and thousands became missing or injured. 125,000 households were damaged or destroyed.   

In the aftermath of the tsunami the Doctors of the World Japan team mobilised and chose Otsuchi as a project since it was one of the three most affected places that were accessible (other locations badly affected were part of an exclusion zone due to the risk of radiation ). Otsuchi was one of worst-hit towns due to its location in a narrow valley.  90% of its buildings had been destroyed by water and fire, and 1,400 people out of a population of 16,000 were dead or missing. Up to 5,500 homeless people were taking refuge in 44 collective shelters, including one that was housing over 1,000 people.

Doctors of the World Japan project in Otsuchi that was designed to address the mental health needs of the victims and relieve the psychological suffering caused by the disaster such as suicidal tendencies, anxiety and loneliness. It also aimed to ensure continuity of care for people who were temporarily unable to receive their treatment due to the destruction of the hospital, roads and transport. The programme offered medical and psychiatric consultations, as well as relief in the form of massages,  therapy through talking and relaxation techniques.

Dr Morikawa is a volunteer in Otsuchi.  BBC World Service Outlook programme spoke to him to find out more about the project.  In his interview he explained the issues victims were coming to terms with:
Therapeutic massages

“Classes have been put on to combat insomnia by talking through problems. The Japanese have a strong hesitancy to talk about emotional problems, this is why we gave non medical names to the classes, it was the only way people would attend. Most Japanese people try to solve problems on their own and especially more so in this region. The problem is when the problems become too overwhelming and lead to suicidal feelings. I think I managed to save three people who told me personally that they would not be alive had they not had this place to come to.





People come to the 'problem sleeping' classes, because they can’t get help elsewhere. One person only told me after ten months of attendance what was on their mind, that they held a lot of guilt, because they let go of their wife’s hand, but no-one could help him with his grief. These feelings have been left with a lot of people of all ages.  One young girl explained how she had to let go of her grandmother’s hand. People who have gone through this feel like they’re the only survivors and have a lot of grief and guilt. I offer advice and methods to deal with such emotions.
A consultation with one of Doctors of the World's health professionals.
The approaches we offer are 3-4 months of talking therapy, where we mainly listen, give support to those who survived and help relieve them of their guilt and help them understand that they had no other choice.

I am motivated to help rebuild the community and make Japan a better place. I feel like I can make a difference by helping people to talk through their emotions and help them feel more hopeful about the future."

To listen to the BBC interview in full click here.

© Photos by Eric Rechsteiner