Nicole Gunawansa | November 27th, 2014
This interview was held on October 8th, 2014 in Tohoku Medical Megabank Building
|Introduction to the Interviewee:
Dr. Hiroaki Tomita works in the Department of Disaster Psychiatry at International Research Institute of Disaster Science in close collaboration with ToMMo. His laboratory evaluates the impact of the disaster on mental health condition of the affected people and investigating the pathogeneses of mental disorders, with the goal of developing useful tools for prevention, assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders.
Question 1: Where were you and what were you doing at the time of the earthquake? Can you also explain the beginnings of your relationship with Shichigahama Town? (March 2011)
I was working in one of the buildings of the campus. Water lines were broken, and the electric power was lost, which resulted in a loss of precious patient and animal experimental samples that were in the freezer. We evacuated from the building right after the shaking ceased.
At the time, I was a basic scientist and clinical psychiatrist. I went to the psychiatric ward at the hospital to discuss how to help with the relief efforts. I joined a mental health rescue team organized by Sendai City, and went to the sea side area of the Sendai City immediately after the disaster. Then, on March 22nd, I joined the relief efforts in Shichigahama Town, where I helped with a psychological recover program for the town.
Question 2: Now, you are conducting the Shichigahama Health Promotion Project. What motivated you to start this survey? (June 2011)
I first discussed with primary physicians and public health nurses in the town about what needed to be done. Then we went to refugee sites and made home visits, providing medicine to psychiatric patients and helping people to resume treatment. We also helped council people who had developed acute stress reaction. After attending to the more immediate relief efforts, we worked with local government to promote psycho-education amongst the residents.
Then after the middle of June 2011, temporary houses were completed and people who lost their homes moved in. There was also an increase in community building efforts, so 'tea party' [a project to promote conversation about feelings after the disaster] was started in every temporary housing community space. Attendees were worried about those who were not attending the tea party meetings as these individuals might not be receiving adequate help. We [community health professionals] were also worried about people who live outside of temporary housing as there was no way to grasp how they are doing. I sought a way to survey the people affected by the disaster. I collaborated with Dr. Tsuji, from the department of public health, who had obtained funding to do a health survey in the affected area.
Question 3: Could you please summarize the Shichigahama Health Promotion Project. (November 2011)
In November 2011, we did the first round of survey which evaluated all of the personnel in Shichigahama Town who lived there during the disaster, and whose houses were significantly damaged. For the survey, we hired personnel to bring questionnaires to each home to ask people if they would join the health survey, and collect answers of the participants. Surprisingly, about 70% of people who lost houses responded to health survey. People who had relocated outside of town also received personal visits, and they tended to welcome the survey. These people wanted to move back to the town following the disaster, but there was not enough space for them due to limited viable land.*
Following the survey data evaluation, we visited people who showed high risk of depression and Posttraumatic Stress Reaction (PTSR) and tried to connect them with social support and treatment. We provided the survey results to participants by printing the data in town newsletters, and by presenting the data at the tea parties which continued to be held (twice a year for each of 6 temporary housing complexes in the town). We also still continue to visit people today who live in Shichigahama Town.
*As of now, the results of the Shichigahama Health Promotion Project have not officially been published. The only reference available for this data is the report given to Shichigahama Town's newsletter, which is only available in Japanese. See the links below.
PR Magazine "Shichigahama" Vol. 487, May 2012.
PR Magazine "Shichigahama" Vol. 489, July 2012.
PR Magazine "Shichigahama" Vol. 491, September 2012.
PR Magazine "Shichigahama" Vol. 492, October 2012.
Background of Shichigahama Town:
Shichigahama Town is a small town located in Miyagi Prefecture. A sea side town, Shichigahama was devastated by the disaster of 3/11 as the tsunami wiped away more than 900 homes, and also ruined the town's rice industry by flooding approximately 90% of the town's rice fields. Shichigahama has an increasing aging population as many people of the younger generations chose to relocate to inland cities after the disaster. Of the people that have chosen to remain in the town, many are still living in temporary housing established by the government.