1 in 10 New Yorkers Has PTSD
Trauma of Sept. 11 Lingers in Wide NYC Area
Aug. 6, 2002 -- More than one in 10 New York-area residents suffer lingering stress and depression in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center, new research shows.
After correcting for background levels, the study suggests that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks resulted in an extra 532,240 cases of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the New York City metropolitan area. The study -- conducted two months after the disaster -- appears in the Aug. 7 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Many psychologists predicted that the trauma of watching the Sept. 11 events on television would cause a wave of PTSD to sweep the nation. The study shows no evidence of this, even though television watching was associated with a high degree of distress.
"That is a piece of good news for the country as a whole, but we find an important public-health problem for New York City," researcher William E. Schlenger, PhD, tells WebMD. "There is a substantial PTSD problem well beyond the downtown area. PTSD is quite high in all five boroughs of the city as well as in the suburbs of New Jersey and Connecticut."
Before the Sept. 11 attack, Schlenger's team at North Carolina's Research Triangle Institute had set up a national computerized health survey. Two months after the attack, they used this tool to gauge how many Americans showed signs of PTSD. They included 2,273 people from New York and Washington, D.C., in their survey. Schlenger is director of the institute's Mental and Behavioral Research Program.
"The strongest predictor of PTSD symptoms was direct exposure -- being in the World Trade Center that day," Schlenger says. "But we also show that there is an important association between PTSD and having a friend, family member, or co-worker killed in the attack."
For fear of causing further trauma to children, the researchers did not try to get information directly from kids. They asked their parents instead. The results are chilling. More than 60% of the adults in New York City -- and half of adults nationwide -- said that at least one child in their household was upset by the attacks.
"The Columbia School of Public Health has done a study for the New York City Board of Education," Schlenger says. "They find that 10% of children in grades 4-12 have PTSD which appears related to the Sept. 11 attacks. That translates to 75,000 kids."
PTSD expert Carol S. North, MD, studied long-term trauma in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombings. Co-author of an editorial appearing alongside the Schlenger team's study, North is professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis and director of the consultation psychiatry service at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
"The New York attack is different from the Oklahoma City Bombing -- the scope and magnitude is greater, the loss of life is very much greater, and the meaning is different," North tells WebMD. "People feel terrorism has struck at the nerve center of who we are as a nation. That is a deep wound. It has a lot of meaning."