In my last post, I wrote about what was being done to build community and camaraderie in the Tohoku region amongst 3.11 survivors. Today, I would like to touch on why efforts like those I described are so important to the greater goal of reconstruction.
Last April, just a month after the tsunami and earthquake, there was an effort to train some civilians in disaster stricken areas to recognize Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Targeting PTSD in particular seems to be a wise course of action, as sufferers often isolate themselves from their communities, experience depression, and self-medicate by imbibing alcohol or other such substances. Considering how suicide rates rose in the wake of the 1995 Kobe Earthquake, it is extremely likely that such a phenomenon has also occurred in the Tohoku region since last year’s tragedy. How can 3.11 survivors rebuild their hometowns, much less their lives, when gripped by PTSD symptoms? Thousands are saying, “Ganbare, Tohoku!” (“Go, Tohoku!”), but their support and encouragement can’t stop there if a long-lasting, positive difference is to be made in the region.
While speaking with a friend with a Master’s degree in School Psychology from Tufts University, I learned that one of the best things a person can do for an acquaintance experiencing PTSD symptoms is to encourage them to seek professional help. Other than that, one should try to get them to participate in activities they previously enjoyed so they don’t become bored or withdrawn from others. No matter how many community events, such as Shinto festivals and concerts, are held, sufferers of PTSD probably don’t know about them unless they have a support system of people who tell them. For this reason, it is especially encouraging to hear about a Nonprofit Organization called “Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake 1.17 The Light of Hope.”
In 2011, after two 3.11 survivors contacted the organization, they worked together to install a “Light of Hope” fixture in Tohoku, similar to the original memorial for the 1995 earthquake victims in Kobe. One of the participants in the project, Toshihiro Shiraki, commented in an NHK interview that the Kobe memorial is a “place where we [survivors] can get together to talk about our suffering.” It is Mr. Shiraki’s hope that the gas flame fixture in the Tohoku region will help others like it helped him after losing family members in the Kobe earthquake. He remarks, “If you have someone to share your suffering with, and you can support each other, you can hold your chin up and move on.” The community that grew up around the monument in Kobe allowed survivors to speak with others about their similar experiences, heal a little, and continue on with their lives. With any luck, the Tohoku Light of Hope will bring the same peace to those in the region.
When it comes to PTSD, elderly sufferers are the most concerning group, as those who suffer PTSD later in life are much more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and dementia. Some speculation exists that the connection between the three is due to PTSD’s association with the amygdala of the brain, but concrete proof of this connection is still lacking. The sense of community that memorial sites inspire may help elderly PTSD sufferers feel less isolated in their experiences. Groups of study abroad students from all over the world, including China, also visit elderly people who live in temporary housing near their cleanup sites. While the support of volunteer workers from other regions is shown much appreciation, I think the best way to keep people from falling into depression, or to bring them out of it, is to create stronger ties within the communities that existed prior to the tsunami. What do you think?
For more information on the Light of Hope and other similar projects, see http://tasuki-project.jp/en/