Japan expats share in distress that hit their homeland

Mon Mar 21, 2011 7:16pm EDT
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By Atsuko Kitayama

TORONTO (Reuters) - More than a week after a massive earthquake devastated northern Japan, psychological aftershocks are touching expatriates living thousands of miles away from the epicenter and their loved ones back home

Anyone who watched the images of the 9.0 magnitude quake and nightmarish tsunami last week could understand that living through such a disaster can have mental and emotional consequences for the survivors.

What's less apparent is the deep impact such natural disasters can have on people affected indirectly, experts say.

Although her family is safe in Tokyo, Kaori Yaeda, a student for the Teacher Training Program at Canada's National Ballet School, said she is very troubled, in part because she is so far away.

"I've been having a really hard time. Why am I continuing a normal life here without any problems while so many people are suffering in Japan? I can't do anything. I feel guilty."

Psychologists say the distress felt by expatriates in such situations is rooted in one of the most basic human response to stress.

"In life, feeling abandoned and feeling helpless are the hardest feelings," said Dr. Nicole Aube, a psychologist in Vancouver. "A lot of people over there may feel abandoned. However, people here with loved ones over there and who can't go there may feel very powerless, which is a hard feeling."

The risk of severe trauma is higher in general for those who are directly affected, said Dr. Katy Kamkar, a psychologist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.   Continued...

<p>Rosa Arashiro (C) and Hiruko Omura (R) make origami cranes to support Japan's earthquake and tsunami victims at the Peruvian Japanese Cultural Center in Lima, March 18, 2011. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo</p>