Sat, Mar 19, 2011 - Page 2 News List

JAPAN DISASTER: Doctors warn of rise in stress levels

TRAUMA:Doctors in central Taiwan said that some 921 Earthquake survivors said they began recollecting traumatic events after watching news coverage of the Japan quake

By Wei Yi-chia  /  Staff Reporter, with CNA

TV footage showing destruction wrought by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan could trigger symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among survivors of the 921 Earthquake, one of the deadliest quakes in Taiwan’s recorded history, doctors said on Thursday.

Doctors in central Taiwan, the area hardest hit by the magnitude 7.3 earthquake on Sept. 21, 1999, said they had seen a 20 percent increase in the number of patients at psychiatric clinics because of overexposure to disaster-related imagery on TV.

Many patients said they began recollecting traumatic events after watching the news and had developed symptoms of insomnia, said Wen Wei-chun (溫偉鈞), a doctor at Kuang Tien General Hospital in Greater Taichung.

Wen said one female patient told him that seeing images of collapsed buildings in Japan on TV reminded her of her parents’ house, which collapsed during the deadly temblor 12 years ago. She also lost a friend in the disaster.

Lin Po (林博), a doctor at Cardinal Tien Hospital’s Mental Health Department, said he had a patient suffering from depressive disorder who became emotionally unsettled after watching TV footage of Japan’s powerful tsunami.

“She lives in Tamsui (淡水) [in New Taipei City (新北市)] and was afraid to go back to her house” because of fears of a tsunami, Lin said.

Chou Shao-hua (周少華), a doctor from the Buddhist Tzu Chi General Hospital in Greater Taichung, said most people are able to make self-adjustments and deal with these symptoms, but a small number of quake survivors have shown difficulty coping with panic disorder or depression.

Kuo Chian-jue (郭千哲), a psychiatrist at Taipei City Hospital, cited a 1999 survey of people who lost family members during the 921 Earthquake. The study said as many as 36.7 percent of respondents suffered PTSD, while 15.8 percent had serious depression.

“Although the symptoms eased with the passage of time, disasters like the one in Japan are likely to trigger these unpleasant memories and cause them to resurface among victims,” Kuo said.

“Typical symptoms of PTSD include sleeplessness, nervousness and emotional disturbance,” he said, adding that quake survivors should seek medical help if these conditions do not improve in due course.

Separately, Chang Chia-ming (張家銘), a visiting staff at Chang Gung Medical Foundation’s Department of Psychology, advised schools to pro-actively look out after the welfare of Japanese students, offering them support and care in light of the tragedy in Japan.

Foreign nationals living in another country already have a hard time given the language barrier and cultural difference, and in times like this need more support as they deal with possible emotional setbacks, Chang said.

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