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Home > Research Articles > Four Groups of New Yorkers Still Suffer Stress After 9/11


Tuesday, February 25, 2003

HealthNewsDigest.com - February 24, 2003


People of certain age, income, employment status and life-stressor history most likely to have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as of Jan. 2003

DENVER, CO., February 17 In the first-ever report of a still-unpublished study outlining New Yorkers psychological status more than a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, researchers from The New York Academy of Medicine have found that four distinct groups were most likely to still be suffering from persistent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as of last month. Those groups, identified Monday for the first time at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Denver, are:

∑ New Yorkers who are younger than 30 or older than 60.

∑ Middle-income New Yorkers.

∑ New Yorkers who were unemployed in the six months to one year after Sept. 11.

∑ Those who suffered at least two life stressors (such as divorce or a death in the family) since Sept. 11, 2001.

Though some of the people surveyed for this study had lost a loved one in the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings, such loss was not a predictor of having persistent PTSD. In fact, many of those who lost a family member or friend actually showed recovery from PTSD after 6-9 months had passed, as did many other New Yorkers, explained Dr. David Vlahov, director of the Academys Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies. Were seeing a substantial resolution of PTSD, Vlahov said during a three-hour symposium called After the 9/11 Terror: The Impact on New York.

Instead, age, income, employment status and life stressors were the most reliable determinants of which New Yorkers remained afflicted by PTSD 12 to 15 months after the terrorist attacks. It is obvious why unemployed and otherwise stressed New Yorkers would continue to suffer from PTSD. Age might play a role because the young have less-developed coping skills, and the old suffer from other problems (such as health and income) that leave them more vulnerable, Vlahov hypothesized. It remains curious as to why middle-income New Yorkers would be more affected by persistent PTSD than poor or wealthy residents. I dont have a full explanation for that, he said.

Children were most likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress if they saw their parents cry and if their parents suffered from PTSD, reported Dr. Gerry Fairbrother, a senior scientist at the Academy, and one of four panelists in todays session. Children from single-parent households were also at greater risk, as were those exposed to disturbing televised images, such as the airplanes striking the towers and people running from the cloud of debris. Almost half (of the children) saw the very disturbing image of people falling or jumping from the tower, Fairbrother said. Based on surveys of parents in the 4-5 months after the attack, 18% of children suffered from severe or very severe post-traumatic stress reactions, and 66% suffered moderate reactions. There was a high disparity between the need for, and the receipt of, mental health services, Fairbrother said, explaining that moderately affected children didnt get nearly enough.

Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine reported that not only was Sept. 11 an affront to America and to our collective psyche, but it was the largest acute environmental attack ever waged on the U.S. The air was tainted by the combustion of 90,000 liters of jet fuel at temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius, he pointed out, followed by a dreadful dust cloud containing …hundreds of thousands of tons of cement, glass and asbestos, pulverized. A stew of asbestos, cement dust, PCBs and toxic chemicals blanketed city streets, apartments, and businesses. Landrigan is currently examining the health of 8,500 people who worked at the disaster site, to assess the impact of breathing tainted air.

Dr. Ezra Susser of Columbia University said that despite all of the studies that have been done, and the terror alert warnings that have been issued, America remains wildly unprepared to immunize the public against the mental health consequences of terror. Susser said that better public health leadership is needed someone to communicate messages clearly, and to offer sound advice. Directing people to buy duct tape will not suffice as a public health strategy, Susser said. Were nowhere near being able to provide adequate counseling, he said.

The New York Academy of Medicine has conducted some of the nations most important research related to the psychological impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which killed 2,726 people. Academy scientists have studied the extent of PTSD and depression among New Yorkers in the first month, four months, six months, and now one year after the attacks, using random-digit dial telephone surveys. The latest study involved 1,939 subjects and was a follow-up to the six-month study, which surveyed 2,752 people in the city and in surrounding areas such as Long Island, Westchester County, Connecticut and New Jersey. The Academy is a non-profit institution founded in 1847 that is dedicated to enhancing the health of the public through research, education and advocacy with a particular focus on urban populations, especially the disadvantaged.