Local officials' requests for sick leave jump 70% from year earlier
The number of local officials who took sick leave to seek mental health care soared 70 percent from April to October in 33 municipalities were seriously damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, according to a recent survey.
The finding makes it imperative to offer full-fledged mental care to local government officials involved in helping disaster victims, analysts said.
The survey, carried out by Kyodo News, covered all 37 municipalities on the Pacific coastlines of three ravaged prefectures — Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima — in late November and compiled findings for all but the city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate and three other municipalities that lost comparable data to the disasters.
In the 33 municipalities, 289 workers took sick leave on one or more occasions for depression or other mental ailments during the period, up from 170 a year ago, the survey found.
The total included 237 officials who were absent from work for a month or longer during the seven-month period, compared with a total of 240 workers for the whole of fiscal 2010 ended in March.
Although nine months have passed since the calamity, the psychological stress building on local government officials in charge of helping those affected shows no signs of abating.
Nobuyasu Kato, head of the welfare section in the city office of Sendai, which topped the sick leave list with 62 workers, said weekend shifts are taking a toll.
"A large number of officials have to work even on weekends due to an increase in disaster-related work, such as processing applications (from survivors) for tax breaks," Kato said.
Sendai was followed by the city office of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, with 50 officials and Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, with 27.
"Civil service workers in disaster-hit areas, while they are victims themselves, tend to blame themselves for failing to prevent damage from the catastrophe," said Masaharu Maeda, associate professor at Kurume University and head of the Japanese Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.