Past Issues

Disaster Psychiatry: Lessons Learned from the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake

Naotaka Shinfuku

Background: In the early morning of January 17, 1995, the Kobe city (1.5
million inhabitants) and surrounding urban areas were devastated by the Great
Hanshin Awaji Earthquake. This Earthquate killed more than 5,500 people immediately
and made more than 350,000 people homeless. But the Japanese have
learned many lessons through experiencing this tragic event. Methods: I personally
experienced the Earthquake on spot at that time. I have also been witnessing
the recovery process in the Kobe area over 15 years. As a psychiatrist, I have also
been observing the changes of psychiatric problems of the Earthquate victims over
the time. Results: Inhabitants in the Kobe area started to experience various physical
and psychological problems after the disaster. These problems have been
changing over the time. The fi rst victims’ symptoms were panic attacks, which
were gradually replaced with depressive symptoms, alcohol abuse and alcoholrelated
problems as well as so-called “solitary death.” But posttraumatic stress
disorder was not common among those victims. In one year, those psychopathologic
problems had quickly become social problems in Japan. The recovery process
was accompanied with the efforts of the Kobe people to transfer their experiences
to the victims of similar disasters in Asia and in the world. Conclusion: The
Hanshin Awaji Earthquake was tragic. But, the lessons learned in Kobe is being
shared by psychiatrists and mental health experts in Asia and in other developing
countries. This transfer of experiences has constituted a continuous process in Japanese
recovery from the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake. One could say, “sharing
is the main source of our recovery from the disaster.”
Key Word disaster psychiatry, earthquate victims, post-disaster psychiatric symptoms
Editorial Committe, Taiwanese Journal of Psychiatry
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