Local efforts begin to deal with psychological toll of Japan disaster

Ken Lee
Ken Lee

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The damage done by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan is obvious, but there's also the emotional and psychological toll.

There already have been glimpses of that impact on some of the victims in Japan. And some Hawaii residents with friends or family there may also be feeling pain, loss, or uncertainty.

"There's a tremendous psychological impact on people," said Ken Lee, a Disaster Mental Health lead volunteer with the American Red Cross in Hawaii. "This is normal. We're human beings. It really hurts us when we see other human beings hurting, especially under these kinds of circumstances."

Lee, who has been a volunteer with the Red Cross since 1995, says disasters like this one can affect us in many ways.

"Some people may be angry, they may be feeling dazed, they may be feeling fearful," he said. "It affects our behavior. Some people are eating less, they're sleeping less. Some people may actually be eating more.

"Some people start to question why a spiritual power would allow this happen, and they start to question their faith," he continued. "So it really rocks us to our foundation because we're not prepared to deal with something like this."

The Red Cross has scheduled workshops to help those with the psychological recovery from the quake and tsunami. Lee stressed that reactions of fear, anger and uncertainty are completely normal, and that there is no shame in seeking help.

"(People) get really scared, they think they're going crazy, they think something is wrong with them," he said. "They think they've got mental health problems, and that's not the case at all." According to Lee, many of these feelings pass in four to six weeks.

Lee has dealt with several disasters, including 9/11 in New York, typhoons in Guam and the tsunami in Samoa. He hopes people will be able to learn psychological first aid. He also hopes people will realize that there is hope.

Red Cross Psychological Recovery Workshop Schedule:

Wednesday, March 23, 9 - 10:30 a.m. (For Japanese Students at Hawaii Pacific University): HPU Downtown Campus, Warner Auditorium, Penthouse, LB Building.

Saturday, March 26, 10 - 11:30 a.m.: Japanese Cultural Center (Room TBD), 2454 South Beretania Street, Honolulu. (www.jcch.com)

Saturday, March 26, 10- 11:30 a.m.: Filipino Community Center, Tech Room, 94-428 Mokuola Street, Waipahu (www.filcom.org)

Tuesday, March 29, 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. (For Japanese Students at Hawaii Pacific University): HPU Downtown Campus, Building FH, Room 306.

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.