News: Mental health symposium brings U.S., Japanese experts together
Story by Lance Cpl. Mark Stroud
CAMP SENDAI, Japan – Japanese and American psychiatry and mental health professionals met at a symposium here March 31 to exchange information and discuss ways to treat mental health issues survivors of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami may experience.
The symposium focused on improving interoperability between U.S. and Japanese authorities in regards to mental health issues and improving the ability of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force officials to diagnose and treat mental health illnesses, according to Lt. Cmdr. Trey Hollis, forward command element surgeon, Joint Support Forces Japan.
“We were able to identify within a couple days of the disaster the need for mental health specialist and to arrange this symposium,” said Hollis. “Within three weeks we brought together over 40 leading mental health specialists from the two countries.”
The U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps’ mental health specialists exchanged lessons that they had learned from dealing with combat stress injuries.
“We are providing some of the lessons for dealing with large scale disasters or traumatic events that we have learned recently from (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and (Operation Enduring Freedom),” said Hollis.
The panel presented doctrines loosely based on the Navy and Marine Corps’ combat operational stress control program, according to Navy Capt. Richard Pusateri, chaplain, Marine Forces Pacific.
One topic of discussion was early identification and treatment of stress injuries.
“Recognizing a combat stress or stress from a traumatic experience before it converts into a post-traumatic stress disorder is very important,” said Hollis. “There is an ability, if recognized early, to prevent long term effects.”
One of the keys to early recognition is a top down approach that includes a proactive approach by medical staff, chaplains, unit leaders and peers, according to Pusateri.
“It is multi-disciplinary; it’s everybody in the Marine Corps,” said Pusateri, speaking on the Marine Corps’ combat operational stress program. “This isn’t a medical program. This is a command program.”
Japanese experts from the National Defense Medical College, civilian experts from the Sendai area and Japan Self-Defense Force counselors were in attendance. These experts were interested in learning from the experience of American personnel in relation to combat stress and ways to overcome the stigma associated with mental health problems.
The pride of the Japanese people led to clean-up workers who would not ask for rest when fatigued or seek help when symptoms of mental health disorders presented themselves, according to Col. Yoshitomo Takahashi, professor of behavioral science, National Defense Medical College.
“I think they are trying to be better at what they do. They are seeing how all the death and destruction is affecting their soldiers, and I really saw a genuine interest,” said Pusateri. “I stayed after for an hour answering questions.”
Radiation presented another dimension to the already complex problem that the experts here discussed.
“The constant fear of ionizing radiation and exposure to it are compounding what would have been a one-time traumatic event and perpetuating it further,” said Hollis.
The symposium provided a starting point for cooperation between the two countries on an issue that will require attention for a long time to come following the traumatic events of the past several weeks here.
“The subject matter expert exchanges like this are critical for the capacity building and interoperability between the two countries. They build long term and invaluable relationships,” said Hollis.