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May 2011
A WPA-sponsored teleconference on the disaster in Japan

A WPA-sponsored teleconference took place on April 1, 2011, with the participation of E. Bromet (Professor of Psychiatry at Stony Brook University), a group of Japanese mental health experts (T. Akiyama, Y. Suzuki, S. Nakajima, Y. Kim), and M. Maj (WPA President).

The teleconference focused on: 1) what can be done to address the mental health consequences of the nuclear component of the disaster affecting Japan; 2) what can be done to plan a top-level research on this issue.

It was agreed that a major focus of mental health intervention is and will be for years the massive anxiety about the health effects of the exposure to radiation, which will largely exceed the reality of the health threat and will affect a far larger number of people than those who have been actually exposed.

In order to address this problem, a first target group is represented by primary care doctors, who should be trained to recognize and address this health related anxiety as well as to identify the physical symptoms which can be actually related to radiation and those which cannot. Further target groups will be obstetricians and gynecologists (since pregnant women are particularly likely to develop health related anxiety) and occupational physicians.

Centers for health information and assessment should be established, providing radiation risk assessment and psychological counseling. People who have been really exposed should be provided with periodic assessment by primary doctors and referred to specialist centers if needed.

A program of training for primary care doctors in the Fukushima area was considered as a component of the joint project that the WPA and the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology have agreed to implement. It is likely that such a project will be considered for financial support by the Japanese government.

Concerning research, it was noticed that: 1) in order to increase the response rate to any survey, people should perceive that participation involves benefits to them (e.g., a physical examination or access to laboratory tests) and that they will be informed about the results of the study before anybody else; 2) studies should focus on the most vulnerable people, such as evacuees, mothers and children, and people who have lost their job; 3) health related anxiety and somatic symptoms ascribed to radiation exposure should be a major focus; 4) a register of people living in the most affected areas should be established; 5) groups with different levels of exposure should be studied. It would also be useful to explore the mechanisms involved in resilience, initially by non-structured interviews.

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