Although called public servants, many local government workers in the disaster-affected region, such as a 37-year-old town employee in Tomioka near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, are starting to show the strain of months of nonstop public service.
The employee was forced to take a week of sick leave in July after developing signs of depression from working night and day in responding to inquiries from local residents.
He said that he was yelled at by an individual who told him to "work to death because his salary came from tax money."
According to an Asahi Shimbun survey, more municipal employees in the region affected by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake have taken more sick days than at the same time last year, apparently because they are victims themselves or stressed out after working to help local residents.
Health experts are calling on local officials to pay attention to their employees’ physical and mental well-being.
The Asahi Shimbun contacted 42 local governments along the coastal areas of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures and the 20-kilometer exclusion zone of the Fukushima nuclear plant to determine the effect the disaster had on municipal employees.
There were responses from 36 cities, towns and villages.
The survey found that 514 local government employees took days off due to illness between April and July, 72 more than in the same period last year.
Ishinomaki city in Miyagi Prefecture reported an increase of 36 percent, or 45 municipal employees. Of these, 14 suffered from autonomic imbalance, depression, insomnia and other illnesses, double the number who complained of symptoms of these illnesses over the same month last year.
In Sendai, capital of Miyagi Prefecture, 131 municipal employees took sick days, a 20 percent increase.
Ofunato in Iwate Prefecture reported four sick days taken, three more than taken last year.
Some local governments are taking safeguards to protect their employees' health.
Iwanuma in Miyagi Prefecture and Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, are working together with a university hospital or specialized local hospitals to survey local government employees on their health conditions and interview those who complained of health problems.
Choi Hyungin, a psychiatrist at the Kyoto Prefectural Mental Health Center, who counseled evacuees in the Aizu area in Fukushima Prefecture, said he was alarmed about public employees' well-being.
"I felt a sense of emergency because many employees, being less expressive and talking little, appeared extremely exhausted," he said.
In Tomioka, the town employee who showed signs of depression, could only take a half day off every once in a while after the nuclear accident following the earthquake and tsunami.
The town hall, which is in the exclusion zone from the Fukushima plant, moved its functions to Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture.
The employee decided to take a week off partly because his wife asked him to quit his job after seeing him exhausted from work.
Hiroshi Kato, research director at the Hyogo Institute for Traumatic Stress in Kobe, called on the public to recognize that protecting the physical and mental health of municipal employees will in turn lead to the protection of local residents.
"Superiors should take the initiative in taking their days off and have their subordinates do the same as part of their responsibilities," Kato said.
- « Prev
- Next »