A suicide-prevention hotline in Fukushima Prefecture received a record 18,194 calls in 2013, signaling that scars from the events of March 2011 still weigh heavily on residents’ minds.
Counselors at the hotline, Fukushima Inochi no Denwa, say consultations related to the triple disaster still stand out from the other issues.
In addition, experts say the content of the consultations has changed over time. Unlike the first days of the natural and man-made disasters, when new supply lines were in dire need, today’s callers often discuss issues regarding their mental distress with the events of 3/11.
In 2011, the hotline actually handled fewer calls than the preceding year (13,677 versus 16,649), but this was only because the telephone network had been damaged by the offshore quake. The hotline’s Koriyama office remained out of service for about a month afterward.
In 2012, calls surged to 17,881 before setting the current record of 18,194 last year.
According to Fukushima Inochi no Denwa, 1,618 calls in 2011 were related to the quake and the nuclear crisis. In 2012, consultations of this kind fell to 826, but counselors spent more hours talking to each person on average.
Counselors said the most recent topics range from arguments between spouses over whether to leave Fukushima because of the radiation, to the way fathers feel estranged from their families after being forced to move out of the house to find work.
Furthermore, a sense of loss and isolation, as well as pessimism about life in general, have recently stood out, the counselors said, adding that many used to mention “a sense of unity” and “the preciousness of life” in the early stage of the disasters.
One recent caller was quoted as saying, “I could not help others when the tsunami hit. It’s hard.” Another caller said: “I took part in rescue operations but could not rescue anyone. Now I have no confidence in continuing my work.”
Shinichiro Watanabe, 66, who heads the hotline, said, “The earthquake and the nuclear accident have affected many Fukushima residents. We will provide consultations to as many people as possible.”
Fukushima University professor Yuji Tsutsui, 49, who studies how disasters affect mental health, said the rise in calls is an alarming sign. He said he believes the aftereffects have reached every corner of residents’ lives over the past three years. The rise in calls also reflects the diversity of the mental problems rooted in March 11.
There are 51 branches of Inochi no Denwa nationwide. The Fukushima call center was set up in 1997 and has two counselors on standby from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. year-round. More than 100 volunteers with two years of counseling training take turns on the phones. The number is 024-536-4343.