When terrorist-controlled airliners destroyed the World Trade
Center's twin towers and crashed into the Pentagon, they not only shattered the
lives of thousands of people directly in the line of fire. They also attacked
America's psyche. Today, people from sea to shining sea are still dealing with
the emotional repercussions of the events of Sept.11, 2001.
As with the assassination of President Kennedy, nearly all
Americans will forever recall where they were when the jets slammed into the
towers, and how they sat transfixed, watching the horrific televised images of
the unprecedented carnage. But long after the disturbing news reports faded
from TV screens, some Americans are still searching for a return to
According to mental health experts, many men and women have
shown an amazing resilience since 9/11, often buoyed by feelings of patriotism
and national pride, sometimes by just the passage of time. Although national
surveys reported common problems like sleeping difficulties, trouble
concentrating, and feelings of vulnerability in the weeks and months after the
attacks, those symptoms have gradually subsided in many individuals. Others,
however, still remain anxious and fearful as they continue to cope with the
lingering psychological effects of the terrorist attacks -- whether they live
near Ground Zero or thousands of miles away.
The presence of protracted psychiatric symptoms should not be
surprising since, as psychologist William E. Schlenger, PhD, says, the 9/11
attacks "represent an unprecedented exposure to trauma" within the
borders of the U.S.
In a study at North Carolina's Research Triangle Institute
(RTI), published in the August 2002 issue of The Journal of the American
Medical Association, Schlenger and colleagues reported that 11% of the
population of metropolitan New York developed probable posttraumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), characterized by nightmares, flashbacks, and other anxiety
"Extrapolating from existing studies of PTSD, 30-50% of
cases will turn out to be chronic -- and in at least some of those cases, it
will probably be a lifelong disorder," says Schlenger, director of RTI's
Center for Risk Behavior and Mental Health Research.
While people in New York City and Washington have been
particularly susceptible to the psychological impact of 9/11, men and women in
every part of the U.S. have been affected as well. Not only did almost everyone
view the televised collapse of the World Trade Center towers, but according to
the RTI researchers, a startling 10 million adults in the U.S. had a
friend, family member, or co-worker killed or injured in the attacks.
"Having a relative's or close friend's physical well-being
challenged is considered a traumatic event sufficient for the development of
PTSD," says Juesta M. Caddell, PhD, senior research clinical psychologist
and a co-author of the RTI study. The RTI research found a 4% prevalence of
probable PTSD in the country as a whole, translating into many millions of
cases away from New York City and the nation's capital.