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Mental Health Center

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Americans More Fearful Than Depressed


In sunny Los Angeles -- some 2,000 miles from recent events -- it's pretty much life as usual, says one resident. "Everybody seems to think it's all happening out east."

But ask L.A. psychiatrists, and you get a different story.

"Maybe it's because I'm a psychiatrist, but people -- even friends -- are more prone to tell me what's keeping them up at night," says Heather Krell, MD, director of psychiatric outpatient services at UCLA.

People are indeed feeling "down," but not to the point of heading for therapy, Krell tells WebMD. "We've all gone through the shock; now we're going through a phase of realizing that our lives have all changed, permanently. But because we're so far from the actual site of the tragedies, and probably because it's all so recent, few people are actively going to therapy."

In fact, a good number of her patients have put therapy on hold -- at least temporarily, she says. "They're realizing that their problems are much smaller than what others are experiencing. I think it's helping people put their lives in perspective. I think we're all doing some examination of our lives and our priorities, how we've lived our lives."

Daniel Creson, MD, PhD, is a psychiatrist and anthropologist at the University of Texas Medical School and School of Public Health in Houston. He's worked in Bosnia, Kosovo -- "complex emergency situations," he tells WebMD.

More than depression, "what I've noticed is a high level of fear, and certainly a great deal of anxiety," says Creson. He's in the process of organizing a conference, and just had two speakers call and cancel because they don't fly anymore. "It's really eerie," he says.

Fear is a normal reaction to new risks, new threats, Creson tells WebMD. But we must put it all into perspective. "Over 40,000 people are killed on the freeways every year. Only one person has died from anthrax."

"We've become used to the everyday risks we live with," he says. "If you go to a country that's been in war for a generation -- like Angola or Sierra Leone -- you find that people have grown used to the risk of war. War is the normal thing."

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