” Disaster-related suicides in Fukushima Prefecture have surged this year, with prolonged evacuation from the nuclear accident and uncertainty about returning home or leading normal lives suspected as the main causes.
Nineteen suicides in Fukushima Prefecture from January to the end of November have been tied to the March 2011 triple disaster, up from 15 for all of last year, according to statistics compiled by the Cabinet Office.
Over the same period this year, one disaster-related suicide was recorded in Miyagi and two in Iwate, the two other prefectures that were most heavily damaged nearly five years ago by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Local police determined if a suicide was related to the disaster and subsequent evacuation after talking to bereaved family members.
Suicide statistics in the three prefectures compiled since June 2011 showed that the situation among evacuees is much more despondent in Fukushima Prefecture than in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, according to the Cabinet Office section in charge of dealing with suicides.
So far, a total of 154 suicides have been linked to the disaster in the three prefectures until the end of November 2015. More than half of the deaths were people who lived in Fukushima Prefecture before the disaster struck.
Between June and December 2011, the suicide numbers were 22 in Miyagi Prefecture and 17 in Iwate Prefecture. Fukushima Prefecture recorded 10 in that period.
However, the numbers for Iwate and Miyagi prefectures have subsequently declined while the figure for Fukushima Prefecture has been at least 10 a year.
Many disaster victims in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures have been able to return to their hometowns to lead comparatively normal lives.
But evacuation orders remain for six municipalities in the vicinity of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and parts of three other local governments in the prefecture.
As of November, about 24,000 people in Iwate and about 55,000 in Miyagi were living in temporary housing away from their homes. In Fukushima, the number was about 103,000.
“The problems facing Fukushima disaster victims become more complicated as time passes,” said Masaharu Maeda, a professor of disaster psychiatry at Fukushima Medical University.
He pointed to differences among evacuees from areas where evacuation orders have been lifted.
“The elderly may return to their homes, but the generation who are still raising children do not return, meaning families are torn apart,” Maeda said. “There is a need to increase the number of people who have specialized knowledge to help provide support to disaster victims through improved care.”
Cabinet Office officials conducted a survey on the reasons for 80 suicides in Fukushima that were identified as disaster-related by police, who talked to bereaved family members.
The most common cause was health problems, found in 42 cases, followed by economic and lifestyle woes for 16 people and family problems for 14. In some cases, more than one motive was included.
The central government is considering lifting the evacuation order by March 2017 for districts near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant where residents are allowed to enter during the day.
But there is no indication when the evacuation order will be lifted for the remaining seven municipalities where airborne radiation levels are still high.
In 2014, the Fukushima Medical University conducted a survey of about 38,000 evacuees from areas where the evacuation order remains in place.
Close to 40 percent of respondents said they were concerned about the negative health effects in the future from exposure to radiation. Nearly 50 percent said they felt the radiation would have a negative impact on their children and grandchildren.
People concerned about radiation were more likely to suffer from depression, the survey showed.
Disaster victims in Fukushima were also found to be more likely to suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorders than people in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. ”