Research Article: Assessing the Mental Health Impact of the 2011 Great Japan Earthquake, Tsunami, and Radiation Disaster on Elementary and Middle School Children in the Fukushima Prefecture of Japan

Date Published: January 18, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Mark Lieber, Soraya Seedat.

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0170402

Abstract

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off of Japan’s Pacific coast, which was followed by huge tsunamis that destroyed many coastal cities in the area. Due to the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, malfunctions occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi (Fukushima I) nuclear power plant, resulting in the release of radioactive material in the region. While recent studies have investigated the effects of these events on the mental health of adults in the region, no studies have yet been performed investigating similar effects among children.

This study aims to fill that gap by: 1) assessing the mental health of elementary and middle school children living within the Fukushima prefecture of Japan, and 2) identifying risk and protective factors that are associated with the children’s mental health scores. These factors were quantified using an original demographics survey, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), and the Impact of Event Scale–Revised (IES-R), the latter two of which have been previously validated in a Japanese setting. The surveys were distributed to approximately 3,650 elementary and middle school students during the months of February and March, 2012. The data suggests that those children who had been relocated to the city of Koriyama had significantly higher SDQ scores than those children who were native to Koriyama (p < .05) as well as a control group that lived outside of the Fukushima prefecture (p < .01). Using a multivariate regression, we also found that younger age and parental trauma were significantly correlated with higher SDQ scores (p < .001), while gender, displacement from one’s home, and exposure to violence were not. These results suggest that, among children affected by natural disasters, younger children and those with parents suffering from trauma-related distress are particularly vulnerable to the onset of pediatric mental disturbances.

Partial Text

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake struck off the east coast of Tohoku, Japan, triggering a powerful tsunami that reached up to 40 meters high as well as a level 7 meltdown at three of the nuclear reactors in the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant complex. The earthquake was the strongest ever to hit Japan and the fifth largest ever to be recorded since seismological record keeping began in the late 1800’s. The earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident combined left more than 15,000 people dead, nearly 6,000 injured, and over 4,000 missing[1].

Aim 1: The presence of a mental disorder was indicated by SDQ scores of 17 or greater as determined by SDQ developer Robert Goodman in 2011. Using these cut-off measures, the prevalence of mental disturbances was determined to be 20% among the relocated students (category I), 14% among the students native to Koriyama (category II), and 7% among the students outside of Fukushima (category III).

In our study sample, the prevalence of mental disturbances was 7% among our control population, 14% among the native population, and 20% among the relocated population. While these figures are slightly lower than the 20–40% range indicated in previous studies, the 14% prevalence difference between the control and relocated groups suggests a real possible difference in the prevalence of mental illnesses between those children who were directly affected by the 2011 East Japan disaster and those who were living in other parts of Japan. This conclusion is also supported by the statistically significant difference in mean SDQ Total Difficulties scores between the three groups.

 

Source:

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0170402

 

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