The March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan resulted in an increased risk of psychological distress among affected residents. We conducted original surveys of Futaba residents, a town in Fukushima where all of the residents were forced to evacuate from their homes due to radioactive contamination, obtaining 585 responses (a response rate of about 20%). Using this original data set, we investigate the role of social capital in maintaining mental health among the residents. First, we found the level of stress captured by the Kessler index (K6) to be unusually high compared both with people across Japan and with those who were displaced because of the earthquake and/or tsunami (but not the nuclear catastrophe). However, having high levels of social capital—captured by the number of neighbors from Futaba after displacement, participation in volunteer work after displacement, and participation in tea parties after displacement—plays an important role in reducing anxiety and distress among Futaba residents. Finally, we provide concrete recommendations for policy makers and NGOs to increase resilience among affected residents by strengthening social ties.
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As larger amounts of damage correlate with higher distress among Futaba residents (Iwasaki and Sawada 2016), we can strengthen and externally validate the claim that disasters damage mental health of affected residents. However, as our results only examine the case of Futaba residents, it is only suggestive that nuclear catastrophe led to more serious damages to mental health than other natural disasters. For external validation, further comparisons with studies under other nuclear disaster settings are necessary. As to internal validity, those worse off are less likely to respond, which could result in underestimating the serious mental health situation of the Futaba residents.
As our results only examine Futaba residents, our claim that social capital can be a shield against deterioration of mental health cannot have external validity. For external validation, further comparisons with other nuclear disaster settings will be necessary. As to internal validity, those worse off and less connected are less likely to respond, which could result in underestimating the effect of the social capital on mental health among Futaba residents.
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Funding was provided by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Grant Nos. 15J09313, 26220502 and LZ003), Center for International Research on the Japanese Economy, and Fulbright Foundation.
Appendix 1: Descriptive statistics
See Table 6.
Appendix 2: Interval regression of number of unknown and known Futaba neighbors
These variables are treated as continuous variables, but they were originally structured as ordered categories. However, to better understand the estimation results, we constructed a continuous variable using interval regression. For the estimation, in addition to the category number of unknown and known Futaba neighbors, gender dummies, age, house type dummies, current prefecture dummies, and residential block in Futaba dummies were employed. After the estimation, the numbers were rounded. Furthermore, upper and lower bounds were adjusted according to the original categories. Estimation results of interval regression are not reported here but are available upon request.
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Iwasaki, K., Sawada, Y. & Aldrich, D.P. Social capital as a shield against anxiety among displaced residents from Fukushima. Nat Hazards 89, 405–421 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-017-2971-7