Well Being

Scary Psychological Effects of Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster

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photo: Thinkstock

Last week we began to post about the physical effects of natural disasters like the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan — particularly when it comes to the very troubling by-product of nuclear radiation exposure from reactor explosions. (And we'll continue to delve deeper into these physical after-effects, because none of us is immune to these types of natural disasters or subsequent manmade ones.)

But today we're focusing on the less visible but equally important psychological effects that this kind of catastrophic event has on a person's mind, spirit, emotions, and soul. I don't happen to live in Japan, but it seems to me that the biggest fear right now is about the unknown factors related to radiation exposure — that is, the emotional stress that worrying about actually getting radiation poisoning can cause your health, even if you haven't been exposed to high levels of radiation. But how does anyone know if they're really safe? How can we be absolutely sure that there's nothing psychologically to worry about in terms of physical health problems, whether we live in the directly affected area or not? So I asked medical doctor and psychiatrist Dale Archer for his thoughts on this complex mental/physical matter, and if he thinks there's any way for humans not to worry in dire circumstances like these, no matter where they live. Here's what he had to say:

As in all things, knowledge is power and the key to knowledge is education. Understand that unless you are within 200 miles or so of an actual, nuclear event, the chance of it having any consequences at all is virtually nil. So if you live near a nuclear reactor, then by all means stock up on drinking water, potassium iodide, and food to prepare for a potential disaster — in your area. But otherwise, say a prayer for the people in northern Japan and understand that short of WWIII, the chances that you will ever have to deal with radiation exposure in your lifetime are slim. If you must worry about something that's potentially decreasing your life span, your time and effort would be much better spent thinking about the pollution in your city, second-hand smoke, and high cholesterol.

We'll talk more here on Blisstree about all the disturbing psychological effects of natural and manmade disasters, but in the meantime, we'd like to hear from you if you've lived through a similar catastrophic event, and how you were able to cope. Talk to us in our comments section, below (anonymously, if you like).

Dr. Dale Archer is a medical doctor, board-certified psychiatrist, and Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association who has helped thousands of patients for more than two decades. His focus is to give good common sense psychological advice. Specialties include chemical imbalances of the brain, relationships, and personal responsibility.