At least 4.1 percent of police department workers are showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the three prefectures hardest hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami last year.
Although the percentage has declined, National Police Agency officials said measures would continue to provide psychological care for the workers because the figures "just could not be ignored."
The NPA released the results of its survey on May 24.
"The police have a culture of not showing weakness,” Yutaka Matsui, a professor of social psychology at the University of Tsukuba, said. “The fact that 4.1 percent of police workers gave their honest responses demonstrates the very serious state of the situation. It will be important to disclose the results of the survey to transmit the message to police workers: 'You are not the only one.'"
The NPA commissioned a private-sector company to conduct the survey in January and February covering 10,434 individuals in the prefectural police departments of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima, as well as NPA officials dispatched to those three prefectures.
Respondents who felt they could have done more to help and showed other signs were considered to have PTSD tendencies.
Of the 9,847 individuals who responded to the survey, 408 were judged to have PTSD tendencies. By prefecture, the numbers were 199 for Miyagi (representing 5 percent of all police workers in the prefecture), 145 for Fukushima (4 percent) and 64 for Iwate (2.9 percent).
Compared to a similar survey conducted by the NPA in April and May last year, after the March 11 disaster, there was a decrease of 2.3 percentage points in Miyagi, 3.7 percentage points in Fukushima and 7.6 percentage points in Iwate.
PTSD symptoms can be triggered from witnessing horrible devastation in natural disasters and other emergencies, as well as through feelings of guilt for not being able to do more. Signs of PTSD include insomnia and lethargy.
An individual is judged to have PTSD if such symptoms last for one month or longer.
Interest in stress arising from natural disasters grew in Japan after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. Fire departments began dealing with the problem in the late 1990s, while the Self-Defense Forces began providing psychological care after dispatching members to Iraq in 2004.
Last year's Great East Japan Earthquake was the catalyst for the first full-fledged survey by the NPA.
The Miyagi prefectural police department conducted a survey of preferences for job transfers. About 70 percent of the police officers in the disaster areas who said they were shouldering a heavy psychological burden were transferred to other posts.
The Miyagi police department also conducted its own survey on PTSD and depression. Three individuals, including a college professor, were commissioned to serve as counselors and provided guidance at the Ishinomaki and Kesennuma police stations.
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