In the wake of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, those who were in close proximity to the infamous terrorist attack on the twin towers are dealing with reopened wounds. Thousands of survivors have learned to traverse the rocky road of recovery while struggling through a long, painful healing process
anchored by fortitude, family, or faith. But though memories of the tragedy have faded with time, the decade anniversary of the horrific event brings them back to the surface – if they were ever truly buried in the first place.
A new study reveals that those in the immediate area of the attack were not the only ones severely mentally affected. Those further away and indirectly exposed to the trauma also have an increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
. The study.
Researchers examined data from 379 employees of various New York City company employees. There were 8 organizations with 176 employees from WTC tower companies and 203 from organizations not in the towers. Some of the individuals were actually evacuated from the trade center while others were nearby when the attack occurred.
Participants were interviewed with the Diagnostic Interview Schedule/Disaster Supplement. In order to “qualify” for 9/11 trauma exposure, certain factors had to be present: physical endangerment such as being inside the towers when the planes crashed or running from falling debris, witnessing injury to others either during the attack or the aftermath (bodies falling from the towers, severe injuries, dead bodies), and having immediate family members or friends closely associated with the attack.
Those involved in the studied supplied information three years after 9/11 and then a follow-up was conducted three years after that. The authors of the study found:
"Effective disaster mental health planning and response depend on accurate information about the numbers of people who will need distinct types of services. In large-scale disasters affecting large populations (such as the September 11, 2001 attacks), estimated proportions may translate into tens and hundreds of thousands of people needing services. Yet even though the 9/11 attacks constituted an undeniable trauma, the occurrence of a traumatic event is not sufficient for the diagnosis of PTSD; a qualifying exposure to the traumatic event is also necessary for consideration of this diagnosis. Exposure cannot be assumed; it must be determined on a case-by-case basis."
"The post-disaster prevalence rate of PTSD in the first three years was 35% of those in the towers or those nearby who were directly exposed to physical danger in the attacks . . . a finding that is remarkably consistent with the 34% PTSD incidence identified among directly exposed survivors of the Oklahoma City bomb blast in the first six months using the same assessment tool. These findings collectively suggest that among highly exposed survivors of severe terrorist incidents, one-third may be expected to develop PTSD." One-third.
That’s a significant number, if you ask me.
Now that mental health professionals have a decade of post-9/11 research to help guide them, perhaps qualifying trauma disaster patients
can be diagnosed with PTSD and receive the treatment they need to get their life in order.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the Federal Emergency Management Agency looked for a way to help the firefighters and other helpers who survived that assault. Many had stood by helplessly as desperate people jumped from the towers and the workers subsequently developed PTSD. FEMA's intervention led to forming a foundation with the sole purpose of devoting new attention to the psychological health of the firefighters and their families. Perhaps other survivors with PTSD will now have the same resources available to them.