Psychological Effects of the Earthquake in Japan

by Wendy Walsdorf, LMFT
UCLA Staff & Faculty Counseling Center

We all are saddened by the devastation and human suffering caused by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. How we process our emotions after a traumatic event is unique to each one of us. For some, ongoing psychological disturbances may begin to appear well after a catastrophic event and show up in the workplace in disturbing ways.

A large-scale natural disaster can have far-reaching consequences. People at highest risk to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are those who have lost family or friends and have witnessed death and destruction first hand. However, the images we see on television may trigger an acute stress reaction even if we were not directly involved.

Some individuals, especially those who have a history of trauma or anxiety are finding the heart-wrenching images too much to handle. Massive disasters such as the one in Japan can create a “vicarious” reaction, and it is not uncommon to experience anxiety and depression, as well as other emotions, as we visualize ourselves in the traumatic situation and play it over and over in our minds. Repeated viewing may exacerbate symptoms for those who are especially vulnerable, including children and those who live in areas that are vulnerable to earthquakes.

The fact that young people have been victims of the disaster may frighten some of our children, resulting in possible phobias or fears. The terrifying images we see on TV and the Internet can take their toll if they go unaddressed. Reassure your children that disasters like the tsunami are rare events. If your child is old enough, discuss an emergency safety plan. Look for unusual behaviors including disturbed sleep, avoidance and clinginess. Encourage open expression of feelings and know that heightened fear of loss of home and loved ones is a common reaction to traumatic events.
UCLA is a diverse community. Many of our students, staff and faculty members are from, or have family members in Japan. There are many individuals who are far away from their loved ones who were directly affected by the earthquake. They may be struggling in the aftermath of the tragedy and feel helpless.

Some common symptoms resulting from trauma are:


  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Hyper-arousal
  • Eating disturbances
  • Decreased immunity


  • Shock
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Confusion
  • Grief
  • Nightmares
  • Withdrawal
  • Reliving the event

If your symptoms do not seem to subside or are getting worse, the UCLA Staff and Faculty Counseling Center provides free, confidential counseling and referrals for Staff and Faculty as well as their significant others. Call for an appointment at (310) 794-0245.

Campus Human Resources, Staff and Faculty Counseling Center
Phone: (310) 794-0245 | Fax: (310) 794-0251