Monday, April 18, 2011 | Categories: The As It Happens Blog
Tonight you'll hear Carol's interview with Mark Kemp. He speaks about living on the edge. Literally. Mr. Kemp is a British ex-pat who teaches English in Koriyama, which is about 50km from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.
He says that what has been hardest to deal with has been the lack of information; the times when residents have not been given sufficient facts with which to make decisions.
That made me think. And look. And I found several longitudinal studies on the mental effects of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.
The Chernobyl accident led to extensive relocation of people, loss of economic stability, and long-term threats to health in current and possibly future generations. Widespread feelings of worry and confusion, as well as a lack of physical and emotional well-being were commonplace... High levels of stress, anxiety and medically unexplained physical symptoms continue to be reported among those affected by the accident.
The accident has had a serious impact on mental health and well-being in the general population, mainly at a sub-clinical level.
Some experts suggest a link between exposure to elevated radiation and mental health issues, including some forms of psychosis. But the effects of these nuclear accidents were not restricted to the relatively limited reach of contamination. Consider, for example, a late '90s study by Koscheyev et al, out of the University of Minnesota.
The U of Minn team found, in relatively uncontaminated areas, spikes in anxiety and a widespread decrease in sense of well-being due to persistant health worries. They concluded that this result was "striking" and that the "psychological impact on adolescents" was "considerable".
They also laid out that, once the stressors of the original crisis have passed, stress was perpetuated by concerns for future health problems and "distrust of government information about contamination levels."
If you hear Mr. Kemp's interview, you'll notice he mentions similar concerns, both personally and in the community at large.
Evelyn Bromet, Ph.D - a Professor of Psychiatry and Preventative Medicine at Stony Brook University in New York - has considerable expertise in the effects on mental health of events such as those at Fukushima. She has co-authored a study on the Three Mile Island re-start and points out an additional issue: In the wake of the disaster at Chernobyl, those who had to be evacuated were treated with fear, and stigmatized in their relocation communities, causing futher feelings of alienation and stress.
The President's Commission on Three Mile Island documented the immediate effect that incident had on area mental health.
It reported high incidences of anxiety, depression and distrust of authority. A follow-up conducted ten years later noted little decrease. Levels of anxiety and depression were nearly as high as they had been in the immediate aftermath of the event, and were signifigantly worse than should be expected when compared to other communities of similar socio-economic background.
Professor Bromet believes that, in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami, displacement, the issues at Fukushima, and radiation exposure, many Japanese will develop persistant fears about their health regardless of the true level of the threat.
In each of these cases - Three Mile Island and Chernobyl- the factor which consistently had a negative impact on people's mental health was the belief that those in authority were not levelling with them,
Perhaps in Japan authorities should work harder to clean up the toxic contaminant of doubt.