Friday, August 19, 2011

Radiation Fears and Radiation Realities

http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20110819p2a00m0na016000c.html

Mainichi: Radiation fears bring psychological stress to Fukushima residents


FUKUSHIMA -- Residents of Fukushima Prefecture are increasingly visiting psychiatrists complaining of sleeplessness or the inability to concentrate as they worry about the effects of leaked radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, the Mainichi has learned.

One housewife in her 40s in the city of Fukushima told the Mainichi she was afraid of the effects of radiation on her 4-year-old son. Relatively high radiation levels have been measured in the area where she lives, but she doesn't want to move out of her new house, which she had built just last year. While agonizing over whether or not to evacuate, she started getting severe headaches, stiff shoulders, and heart palpations. This month she visited a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. She is now taking prescription medicine to reduce her anxiety.

The stress is also affecting children. In the city of Soma in June, a boy in the upper grades of an elementary school who complained of vomiting and insomnia was taken to a psychiatrist.

"The radiation is scary. I have bad dreams and don't feel refreshed after sleeping," the boy was quoted as saying. According to the psychiatrist, the boy refrained from playing outside and always shut any open windows he found.

At Hiroyama Mental Clinic in Fukushima, two or three people a week have complained of radiation-related stress over the past month. They talk of symptoms like crying without knowing why, or feeling like their chests are being compressed.... But from around three months after the earthquake, radiation-related stress became the more prominent problem.

One high school student reportedly complained, "When I leave the house, I'm so anxious that I want to scream and cry." Another patient, a man who couldn't reach an agreement with his wife on evacuating, became depressed and unable to go to work.

"When people don't have family or acquaintances they can share their concerns with, their condition tends to worsen. It's important to listen to such people and let them know that their concerns are normal," says the head of the clinic, Yuji Hiroyama.

...Hiroyama worries, "If a situation where people can't trust the government's safety standards continues, the number of people feeling stress may increase."

MAJIA HERE: This article seems to oscillate between on the one hand acknowledging that (1) the fears are based in a real distrust of the government and the realities of radiation sickness and (2) on the other hand trivializing concerns about radiation by representing them as a "psychiatric" problem.

People should fear radiation contamination because people are, in fact, getting sick from the radiation.

But can you imagine the horror of not knowing whether your symptoms of physiological distress are from actual radiation sickness or from stress?

These people are incredibly vulnerable both biologically and psychologically.

No one wants to be regarded as a hypochondriac and there are apparently many Japanese authorities who are too willing to cast people concerned with their exposure as precisely that.

A government's unwillingness to speak honestly with its citizens and protect their welfare is fundamentally corrosive of societal well-being, at both physiological and psychological levels.

We know that people as far away as Tokyo are going to experienced increases in cancer rates and other illnesses across time.

Let us hope that the Japanese government and public health officials would not be so evil as to represent radiation sickness as purely symptoms of psychological distress.
 

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