Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11: Ten Years Later

• Ten years later, 95% of the 3000 survivors of the World Trade Center continue to experience significant PTSD.

• Ten years later, mental health statistics show that PTSD and depression are not just experienced by those at ground zero or those who lost a loved one, were first responders or engaged in cleanup or recovery. Data shows that millions who witnessed the event continue to suffer psychological consequences.

• Ten years later, parents who had been highly exposed to 9/11-related trauma experience significant panic and anxiety than low-exposed parents.

• Ten years later, the brain biology of children and adults who were in close proximity to the disaster remain in a hypervigilant state.

• Ten years later, studies polling public opinion suggest that the country lacks confidence with news information and with reporting of intelligence obtained.

• Ten years later, uneasiness still lingers for plane crews and travelers alike.

• Ten years later, a team of scientists are still working full time to identify 9/11 victim remains.

• Ten years later, cancer rates continue to skyrocket around the World Trade Center perimeter.

• Ten years later, political discourse persists, leaving many Americans doubting governmental officials and policymakers

• Ten years later, youth growing up in the shadow of 9/11 are more mistrusting of the world around them.

Tips to Offset These Trends

• When dealing with trauma, it’s vital to know about the Anniversary Effect. Sometimes called an Anniversary Reaction, this psychological event sets into motion unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on the anniversary of a significant experience (i.e. Divorce, Death, Trauma, and Disaster). It’s very common to have strong emotional reactions weeks before an anniversary date, and continue even afterwards. This is an expected reactive state, so know that there’s nothing wrong with you. Understanding the anniversary effect can help you make sense of the emotional turmoil you’re experiencing.

• Historical disasters, traumas or crises receive significant media coverage. Often, media outlets revisit distressing imagery. Limit your watching of TV, reading of newspapers and visiting of Internet news sites around those dates. Secondary trauma, also called Vicarious Trauma, is when you witness an event that causes you distress. As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, also limit your exposure from others who can’t refrain from talking about the event. Make it a no-drama day.

• You don’t have to feel imprisoned by a distressing experience of the past. Create a shield of resilience. Make sure you take good care of yourself during these times. Self-care, support and comfort will ground you as you move through a difficult trauma. Express your memories and feelings by talking with a family member or friend, writing or using physical activity to de-stress. Other ways to express your inner experiences can include the creative arts. These activities can re-set brain biology and soften hypervigilance.

• If you find that you're struggling with trauma, remember that you're not alone. Loss affects each of us differently, so don't put a time limit on your grief. Don’t compare the trajectory of your recovery to anyone else’s. What 9/11 has shown the mental health community is that there’s no finite time-line for healing.

• Though studies show that parents who were directly exposed to 9/11 are over-reactive, the data shows that their kids generally don’t follow suit. If you can’t reel your panic or worries in about every day matters, know that your child is less impressionable than you think. Kids have a keen ability to know when something is worry-worthy.

• When curious about world events, get information from various sources, including out- of-the-country news programming. This will help you get a more balanced perspective of news worthy information.

• Consider taking the pain of this anniversary date and turning it into a day of service or memorial. Don’t linger on the helplessness or hopelessness this day evoked for yourself, your family or the country. Be determined to mark the day in a positive way.

• When traveling, empower yourself with facts grounded in reality. For example, air travel is statistically the safest mode of transportation. To help yourself feel confident, make sure you follow travel guidelines and conform to safety standards. And remember that not all anxiety is bad. Being attentive, even a bit nervous, can be a good thing. It enables you – and others – to be watchful and self-protective.

• While some may have found a sense of closure with the events of 9/11, there are others who are still in a state of prolonged grief or trauma. Be respectful and compassionate. Don’t shame or blame a person for not being able to “get over” this crisis.

• When it comes to getting aid or governmental funding for your health care as a 9/11 survivor, don’t let bureaucratic obstacles sideline your well-being. Continue going for your treatments while others tend to dealing with the procedural or legislative delays.

• Trauma dislodges the bond we have to others. Though terrorism can unsettle anyone’s foundation of trust, it’s important to help those shaken by 9/11 understand that the evil acts of few are not in the heart of many. This is especially true for children who have grown up alongside the specter of 9/11.


Block-Elkon, Y. (2011). The Polls—Trends: Public Perceptions and the Threat of International Terrorism after 9/11. Public Opinion Quarterly, 75(1) 366-392.

Brandon, S. E. (2011). Impacts of psychological science on national security agencies post-9/11. American Psychologist, 66, doi:10.1037/a0024818

Eisenberg, N., & Silver, R. C. (2011). Growing up in the shadow of terrorism: Youth in America after 9/11. American Psychologist, 66 doi:10.1037/a0024619

Ganzel, B. et. al (2011). The aftermath of 9/11: Effect of intensity and recency of trauma on outcome. Emotion, 7(2), 227-238.

Lindstrom, K.M et. al. (2011). Attention orientation in parents exposed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and their children . Psychiatry Research, 187 (1,2) 261-266.

Neria, Y., DiGrande, L., & Adams, B. G. (2011). Posttraumatic stress disorder following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: A review of the literature among highly exposed populations. American Psychologist,66, doi:10.1037/a0024791


jumpinginpuddles said...

even more difficult would be those who continue to fight for freedom in amongst people who hate so much.

Dr. Deb said...

Well said, my friend.

brydee said...

Thanks so much for posting this. Here in Christchurch, New Zealand, we have just past the first anniversary of 1 of 3 major earthquakes (& whilst they can not ever be compared to 9/11) it is one of the biggest natural disasters or events that many of us have experienced. Reading this helped me to realise that some of that feelings etc that I continue to experience are not too unusual. Thanks so much.

Dr. Deb said...

Yes, trauma responses can be very similar despite the situation. Makes me feel good to know that you found something meaningful to help you along. I remember reading about the earthquakes in NZ. I also have a friend in NZ who I frequently checked up on. The one thing about trauma is how others rally to support....from local to global. The good part of humanity, right?

Xmichra said...

I have a hard time with days like today, because so much good happened in my life while so much discourse and pain was happening on a global level. Sometimes It is hard to enjoy those good things and that anniversary when all the hurt and pain is going on - both in sincerity and quality - because people who are hurting just don't want to hear it or be near it.

So for all of those who are in my boat - please celebrate those good things however you can, your life should be rejoiced.

And those in pain - I am truely sorry, and mean no disrespect.

Becky Bohan Brown said...

Dr. Deb thanks for sharing these tips. I’m amazed how far reaching 9/11 still is. We live in the Midwest but our hearts still ache and feel for all those lives lost on that dreadful day. Your post was very reassuring that these images affect us all -- no matter where we live.

bkbsmiles said...

This is one of the most powerful posts I have read on the decade anniversary of 9/11. Thank you for letting us know how people are dealing with trauma and that it is more widespread than many may believe. ---Barb

kenju said...

Very interesting statistics. Thanks for this.

Sarebear said...

I saw a bit of anniversary coverage, and an inadvertent shout of "NO!" was yanked frome me when they showed one of the planes banking just before hitting one of the towers.

I think I'm vicariously traumatized, like you say.

Over the weekend, when the tv was on, mostly non-9/11 stuff, occasionally I'd look up and see one of the towers falling, and be horrified because so many people were dying right then.

Anyway, hope this comment doesn't traumatize anyone else.

Also, a bit of a question is, my daughter was too young at the time it happened to even be aware that something big was going on. Now, she is very concerned about it, and also curious. I didn't want her to feel like it was WRONG or BAD to be curious, so I didn't want to say, NO footage or historical documentaries for you, because it IS a historic event. At the same time I didn't want to traumatize her, either. What I did was have ONE documentary on in the background, and offer her opportunities to listen or watch. When she got scared, I turned it off and said that's okay, you aren't missing anything. We talked about her fears and what happened.

I don't know if I did wrong by her by providing the opportunity of a documentary, but she is a young teen, trying to figure out her place in the world (very bright, even though high-functioning autistic) and curious about things. Prone to having greater fear if she senses we are trying to hide or shield her, because she wonders what's so bad that we won't allow her to know more?

At the same time I won't stop trying to shield her, at least until she's 18, because of course I must protect her. That has to be balanced with, well, I need to respect that she wants to know some, but what do I expose her to and what not? I fear I may have done wrong here, but later in the day I heard her on the phone with a friend discussing her worries, concerns and everything and I got the impression that, as she described all the facts she'd learned, that she felt, well, more in control because she KNEW something. She did not see the planes hit or about to hit; she did see one tower starting to fall and that was when she got scared and I turned it off. But when I heard her on the phone with her friend, I knew that mostly I had done the right thing, because she had some sense of having her questions treated with respect, and she had some sense of feeling like she knew something.

Anyway, it's always a balancing act as a parent, especially of a special needs child, and I don't always get it right, and may have gotten some of this wrong, but I think I got some of it right. I just wish I knew how to navigate this kind of thing!


Anonymous said...

I didn't think it affected me much any more. But then, with our recent trip to Hawaii, it all came back to me vividly, including some minor PTSD symptoms, since it was only the day before that we were destined to fly to the Mainland. Reminded me of when it happened and we were off in the Cook Islands and had to fly into LA mere days afterward. Oh well, at least we got an F-16 escort into LA. Not a nice time. Really good posting.

Social Work Helps said...

I especially appreciate the point you made about how it is important to emphasize that the evil acts of some are not the hearts of many. Very well said.

This Sept 11, I tried to remind myself that this is not just the anniversary of an international tragedy, but for many people it is the anniversary of individual lossess that are very very personal.