June 13, 2008

Study: Stress Disorder Still Being Experienced Years After 9/11

A new study released Friday has found that one in eight people who were living near the World Trade Center during the September 11, 2001 attacks are still suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The study is based on a survey conducted by the city's health department in 2003-2004 of 11,000 residents of lower Manhattan. It found that less educated, low-income and divorced residents were more likely to suffer from PTSD two to three years after the attack, with nearly twenty percent reporting PTSD symptoms. The study's authors said additional monitoring of the area's PTSD victims should be implemented, and urged affected residents to take advantage of mental health services available at no charge.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder brought about by traumatic experiences of intense fear, horror or hopelessness. Symptoms include anger, irritability, sleep disturbances, trouble concentrating, extreme vigilance, nightmares and flashbacks.

The health department said it was the first to measure the attack's long-term impact on the community's mental health. It will also analyze the results of a follow-up survey conducted six years after the attacks, it said,  and will release the findings in the coming months.

The survey found that 12.6 percent of all respondents suffered PTSD in 2003-2004. Women were more likely to be affected, with 15 percent reporting PTSD symptoms, compared with 10 percent of men.

Nearly 20 percent of African Americans and 25 percent of Hispanics suffered PTSD, compared with 10.7 percent of white residents, the study found. Those earning under $25,000 per year showed a 20 percent PTSD rate. 38 percent of the residents injured in the attacks were still suffering from PTSD two or three years later. Others most affected included those who witnessed violent deaths and those caught in the dust cloud following the collapse of the towers.  Each of these subgroups reported a 17 percent rate of PTSD, the study found.

Data from previous studies of the city's general population showed that 8 percent of Manhattan residents reported PTSD symptoms at five to eight weeks after the attacks. That rate later fell to 2 percent at four months and less than 1 percent at six months.

The new study showed that residents of lower Manhattan, where the attack occurred, were more likely to have psychological problems two or three years later than did New York's greater population at six months after the attacks.

The study's report suggested a potential explanation was that those living near the World Trade Center had constant reminders of the attack, and experienced more disruption to their normal daily routine. Many had been evacuated from their homes in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

"We therefore believe these residents require more in-depth mental health monitoring, independent of the larger metropolitan area," the authors wrote.

The study was published Friday in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.


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