Children struggle with psychological trauma following disaster

Jiji Press KUMAMOTO (Jiji Press) — Long-term psychological care is needed for children in Kumamoto Prefecture, where new stress cases are still emerging one year after the powerful earthquakes in and near the southwestern Japan prefecture, teachers and psychologists say.

The prefecture and surrounding areas in the Kyushu region were hit by powerful quakes for weeks following the first major one that occurred on April 14 last year.

Just after the string of quakes began, an elementary school in the city of Kumamoto saw 20 to 30 children visit the school nurse’s office each week complaining of headaches, uneasiness and other physical and psychological problems, according to the principal.

Even now, around 10 children visit the office per week, the principal said, adding that aftershocks still continue, arousing traumatic memories related to the quake spell a year ago.

Many children, unable to put what they feel into words well, are believed to be suffering from accumulated stress.

“I try to create an atmosphere in which children can relax. I also listen carefully to them,” said the nurse at the elementary school in her 30s.

She takes care not to miss any negative signals from children’s behavior, such as nail biting and hair pulling. She cooperates with the school counsellor to watch over pupils.

The city’s board of education has carried out six surveys covering some 60,000 children attending 137 elementary and junior high schools in the city to check their physical and psychological health.

In the first survey, taken in May last year, 2,143 children were found in need of care. The number has decreased since then. But each survey has unearthed fresh cases, showing that stress from quake-related traumatic experiences is a deep-rooted problem.

“The results indicate the existence of stress cases that have become invisible because children suppress their feelings and emotions and exercise self-control,” an official at the board’s secretariat said. “We expect the situation to continue for two to three years.”

Some children affected by the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji earthquake and the March 2011 temblor and tsunami in northeastern Japan developed post-traumatic stress disorder years after the disasters struck, according to mental health experts.

In August last year, the Kumamoto prefectural and city governments set up a team for psychological care for children. The team will draw up programs to enhance the resilience of disaster-affected children from traumatic experiences.

“We can’t see emotional wounds. People [around children in need of care] are required to support them over long periods,” said Yumiko Ezaki, head of the prefectural group of clinical psychologists.Speech

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