Six years after the events of 9/11, many Americans are still struggling with fear and anxiety and many are suffering from varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unsurprisingly, those who were in closest proximity are suffering the most. Researchers at New York University and the New York—Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center have conducted follow-up studies with adults who witnessed World Trade Center events and with children who lost a parent. The research shows enduring psychological and neurological repercussions, including an alteration in brain chemistry. The children in particular may be prone to developing other problems in later life, ranging from hypersensitivity to stress to actual physical manifestations, such as the development of diabetes or weak bones.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta discusses PTSD and some promising new methods of treatment. If there is any silver lining that can come from such a tragedy, it is in the potential advances that might come from studying survivors with PTSD and developing new treatments for dealing with this crippling affliction.
Of course, 9/11 is only one event that can trigger PTSD. Iraq and Afghanistan vets, post-Katrina survivors, and anyone who has experienced a fire, a violent assault, or a vehicular accident can also be affected by PTSD. After a traumatic event, Acute Stress Disorder is fairly common. This is a disruptive condition that can be marked by nightmares, anxiety, and general life disruption. Many people experience this but it is generally short term in nature. In contrast, a smaller subset will experience PTSD – some put that number at about 10%. It’s difficult to know why some will experience PTSD and others don’t. Some experts think that occurrences are more frequent and deep-seated in response to man-made disasters such as war or violence than in natural disasters. PTSD often has delayed onset, sometimes not surfacing for as much as 6 to 18 months or more after the triggering event. PTSD symptoms are generally much more severe than ASD and often quite debilitating. Some recent research, such as the studies cited above, seem to indicate a bio-chemical alteration in the brain that keeps a victim “stuck” in trauma mode and susceptible to repeatedly re-experiencing the traumatic events. Treatment is essential.
While on the topic of 9/11, we learned about what we think of as a fitting way to memorialize that terrible day. Many people think that the best way to commemorate 9/11 is to reclaim the day and dedicate 9/11 to positive action, such as doing good deeds or performing acts of kindness. A focus on national service does honor in a meaningful way to those who perished and is particularly poignant way to remember public servants who gave their lives in an attempt to save others. This might be a healing way for an organization to mark the anniversary of any severely traumatic event that has affected a number of employees.
- Trauma Information Pages – extensive information and links to disaster mental health resources
- U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs PTSD Information Center
- National Institute of Mental Health: PTSD
- MedlinePlus – PTSD resources