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News Link • Natural Disasters

Op-Ed: Psychiatric Disorder Could Complicate Japan Quake Recovery


In the early 1990’s an extreme form of isolation emerged, where young Japanese people seclude themselves in their homes for months or even years at a time. Attempts to establish the prevalence of the phenomenon suggested over 1 million Japanese people could have hikikomori, but some researchers believe the actual number may be higher.

A growing psychiatric phenomenon in Japan known as hikikomori could be especially troublesome in the aftermath of the country’s massive earthquake and tsunami.

People with hikikomori often have symptoms of anxiety and depression and unusual sleep patterns. The official definition (sidebar below) includes complete home isolation, but most psychiatrists and researchers I encountered in Japan use a working definition that ranges from complete seclusion to going out every day but having no friends or jobs. Patients tend to sleep during the day, and at night they watch TV, play computer games, and read manga (comic books). They often eat alone in their bedrooms and do a great deal of internet chatting, but have very little face-to-face communication with others.

In rare but highly publicized cases, some of these people have committed suicide and even murder. In my experience, people with hikikomori mostly only seek medical help when they have no other choice, such as when their house is sold, their parents pass away or they run out of money.

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