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Uncertainty and psychological impact of Fukushima

Posted on 21/09/2012
earthquake

Uncertainty over Fukushima nuclear accident had high psychological impact on British nationals

Clear, credible information given to the public is essential in reducing the psychological impact of major disasters, according to new research published today by the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Researchers from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry and the Behavioural Science team at the Health Protection Agency (HPA) surveyed 284 British people who were in the area when the Fukushima nuclear accident took place in 2011.

The researchers found that a third of people experienced high levels of anger or anxiety, and 16% experienced distress. People were much more likely to experience distress, anger and anxiety if they felt uncertain about the scale and impact of the disaster, or feared that they had been exposed to radiation.

150 of the participants (51%) believed they had been exposed to some radiation and could not definitely rule out health effects. When asked if they felt uncertain when thinking about the incident, 66 participants (23%) responded ‘very much’, 74 (26%) answered ‘somewhat’, 87 (30%) replied ‘moderately’ and 59 (21%) replied ‘not at all’.

Lead researcher Dr James Rubin from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London said: 'Our study shows that reducing uncertainty and improving the credibility of information is essential in reducing the psychological impact of major disasters.

'Our results also suggest that individual differences in the way people process information about a disaster should be taken into account by those who organise an emergency response. Not everybody wants or feels able to consider in-depth information about a risk before forming a judgement about it.'

British nationals got information about the incident from a range of sources. The British government was considered the most credible source of information about the leak (with a mean credibility score of 3.5 out of 5), followed by the Japanese media (2.6), the British media (2.4) and the Japanese government (2.2). Almost three-quarters of respondents rated the help of the British Embassy and Foreign and Commonwealth Office as excellent or good.

Dr Richard Amlôt, Scientific Programme Leader with the HPA, said: 'This is an interesting study of the emotional responses of British nationals who were in Japan at the time of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear incident. It provides us with evidence which will help us to improve the quality and credibility of our public information materials in the aftermath of a health crisis.'

The Study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research. 

Full paper: Rubin GJ, Amlôt R, Wessely S and Greenberg N. Anxiety, distress and anger among British nationals in Japan following the Fukushima nuclear accident. British Journal of Psychiatry, 2012, doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.112.111575

For further information, please contact Seil Collins, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, email: seil.collins@kcl.ac.uk or tel: 0207 848 5377

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