Science for the Community: Assessing Mental Health After 9/11

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Reactions to the September 11 attacks across the United States were pervasive, and persons throughout the country reported experiences akin to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the first week following the attacks. In the New York area, 2 major surveys conducted 4 to 8 weeks after the attacks found that approximately 1 in 10 persons probably met full criteria for PTSD related to September 11. Although tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use did increase, it was largely among persons already using these substances. The greatest increase, not surprisingly, occurred among persons with PTSD and major depressive disorder. Nationwide during the same time period, rates of PTSD related to September 11 were estimated at 2.7% to 4.3%, a striking finding in that the attacks were witnessed primarily on television outside the New York area. In all studies, having anxiety symptoms or meeting criteria for PTSD was strongly associated with number of hours of television watched on September 11 and in the days afterward. A number of explanations for this new finding are possible. These data can inform our understanding of trauma-related diagnoses, further the evolving diagnostic definitions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and contribute to etiologic models of PTSD. Future directions for postdisaster survey research are briefly discussed.

J Clin Psychiatry 2004;65(suppl 1):37-43