The government plans to send mental health welfare professionals, clinical psychotherapists and other specialists to areas stricken by the March 11 disaster to try to assist people who are experiencing mental problems, sources have said.
According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, about 250 specialists will be invited from around the nation to travel to Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures by the end of March to provide mental care to people at temporary housing facilities and other places.
Such specialists had been sent to disaster-hit areas, but their number has dwindled to about 10 percent of the peak figure, leading the ministry to decide to take action in providing long-term mental care.
An 82-year-old woman living alone in temporary housing in Otsuchicho, Iwate Prefecture, said more than 50 people she knew, including her primary school classmates and neighbors, died in the disaster. She said she felt all right while talking to others at evacuation centers, but was unable to sleep and wept sometimes thinking of the dead after moving to temporary housing in late July.
“Nurses used to talk to me at the evacuation center, but here I have no one,” she said.
A team of mental health experts the ministry sent to disaster-stricken areas after the March 11 earthquake work primarily for people staying at evacuation centers since their activities for emergency relief purposes are based on the Disaster Relief Law.
After evacuation centers closed, prefectural governments could not allocate funds to provide mental care as disaster relief expenses.
Because of the rules, the number of mental care providers active daily in the prefectures dropped to 15 in mid-October from about 150 at the end of April. The number of volunteers helping mental care specialists is also decreasing.
The ministry included about 2.8 billion yen, including related expenses, to send about 250 experts to the areas in the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2011. By inviting participants from hospitals and professional organizations around the nation, the ministry plans to have experts stationed in the areas for six months to one year.
They will be based in local health care centers and visit temporary housing facilities and other places while working with nurses to gather information on victims who need support.