Publication Alert: The Tōhoku Theater Project in Postdisaster Japan: An Exemplar for Addressing Community Mental Health in the Context of Disaster

Following the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent nuclear accident in the Tōhoku region of Japan in 2011, local and international community members and leaders joined together in multiple ways to increase awareness of the disasters’ impact on mental health and to promote coping and healing. The Tōhoku Theater Project was an arts-based intervention that was developed and implemented during this time, in partnership with a US-based social impact theater company, Theater of War Productions. Together with community partners, four performances were created and produced to focus on destigmatizing mental health, increasing awareness of psychological needs, and fostering community resilience.

With culturally relevant theater performances and small group discussions with a total of 143 participants, the Tōhoku Theater Project created safe spaces for residents to discuss their experiences. As participants engaged in conversations about grief, empathy, misunderstanding, displacement, and the impact of disaster on family and social relationships, participants also noted a shift in their perspectives on expressing emotions in dialogue and in community. Furthermore, small group discussions also provided participants an opportunity to gain information on mental health resources available, while acknowledging that there are limitations in coordinated care and some reluctance to seek mental health care.

The Tōhoku Theater Project demonstrated that building individual and community resilience, destigmatizing the seeking of mental health care, and connecting individuals to mental health services, are steps that can facilitate healing in post-disaster settings. The success of this dramatic-arts based intervention highlights the potential for similar programs to be developed in the wake of other global public health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

To read more, visit the Tōhoku Theater Project program page here.

This article on the Tōhoku Theater Project was recently published in Psychiatric Services and can be accessed here.

Citation: Pike, K. M., Rebello, T. J., Hanasaki, S., Narita-Ohtaki, R., Kaufman, P., Akiyama, T., Doerries, B., Yang, L. H., Suzuki, N., Magill, E. B., & Yasumura, S. (2021). The Tōhoku Theater Project in postdisaster Japan: An exemplar for addressing community mental health in the context of disaster. Psychiatric Services. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ps.202000520