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New York Trauma Symptoms - One Year Latter

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Posted On: September 20, 2002          Updated On: September 20, 2002
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

New York Trauma Symptoms- One Year Latter
By Terence T. Gorski
September 20, 2002

According to the New York Times life in New York City is far for normal for many of its citizens one year after the terrorist attacks.  This is not surprising.  Terrorism is an act of psychological warfare and people are deeply affected especially in areas involving their core sense of safety.  Notice the impact on children.  Parents report that 25% of the children have had nightmares and 50% are living in fear for the safety of themselves or their families.  Here's the results of a New York Times Poll conducted August 26 - 29, 2002.  The article in the New York Times summarizing the research is reprinted below <go to article>

1.    Knew someone hurt or killed in the attack   61%
2.    Life circumstances have changed (job loss, reduced income)   47%
3.    Very concerned about another attack  (9/11/2001)   74%
4.    Very concerned about another attack  (9/11/2002)  62%
5.    Do not feel safe (persistent fear & worry)  65%
6.    Daily intrusive memories  33%
7.    Talked about the attack at least weekly with friends  20%
8.    Lives have changed as a result of the attacks   52%
9.    Daily routines have not returned to normal   30%
10.  Still feel nervous and edgy  25%
11.  Parents reporting children awakened by post-9/11 nightmares 25%
12.  Parents reporting children concerned about safety of self or family 50%

This poll did not ask about drinking and drug use habits.  Recent reports of alcohol sales and admissions to alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs suggest a continuing trend toward heavier alcohol and drug use and increasing numbers of people seeking help for alcohol and drug related problems.  Prescriptions for antidepressants, antianxiety agents, sleep medications, and pain medications have all increased.    Family problems appear to be increasing. 

September 11, 2002

For Many New Yorkers, a Tentative Normality


MAYBE it is willful ignorance, some suggest. Maybe it is the conviction that living in fear is no way to live. But one year after the attack on the World Trade Center, nearly half of all New York City residents say the event has not changed their lives.

Those New Yorkers may find themselves thinking about it far more often than they would have imagined. They may even become teary-eyed at the memory. But most have lost no sleep, they feel comfortable in skyscrapers and they travel by subway. They say their daily routines are unchanged.

"I love the city, and I'm not about to hunker down in my apartment and not go anywhere," said Rebecca Press Schwartz, a 26-year-old graduate student and parent who was one of 1,008 adult New Yorkers questioned in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll. "And I honestly don't know that that would make a difference."

"If there isn't another terrorist attack, then we're all fine," Ms. Schwartz, who lives in Washington Heights, added in an interview after the poll. "And if they smuggle a suitcase-size nuclear weapon into Manhattan, then we're all dead. Either way, I don't see much to be gained by sitting around in fear."

In the poll, conducted by telephone from Aug. 25 to 29, 48 percent of the people questioned said their lives had not changed as a result of Sept. 11. Seventy percent said their routines had returned to normal. Most said they no longer felt nervous or edgy, if they ever had, while about a quarter acknowledged that they remain anxious. Most said they had done nothing different in response to government warnings of possible new attacks.

Which is not to suggest that lives have not been touched. Sixty-one percent of those polled said that they or one of their friends knew someone who had been hurt or killed. Forty-seven percent said their lives had changed; they cited a wide variety of experiences, including the loss of jobs and income, feelings of fearfulness and a sense of new perspectives on life and a new closeness with neighbors.

While 11 percent called terrorism their biggest concern about living in the city, more than twice that many cited financial worries caused by things like the high cost of living, high rents and the economy. Among parents, 75 percent said their children had never been awakened by post-9/11 nightmares; half said theirs had never expressed concern about their own safety or that of anyone in the family.

C. R. Snyder, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas who specializes in the study of human motivation, hope, stress and coping, said the findings were consistent with some of his own. His observations of behavior after other traumatic events, he said, show that most people are remarkably resilient — something he attributes not to denial but to hope.

"It's not that these people don't realize the depth of the tragedy and what's happened," he said in an interview. "But they realize that they have a life to live and that other people depend on them, and that there's a better use of their time than worrying about things that in all likelihood they can't control."

The poll, which had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, found that 62 percent of New Yorkers described themselves as very concerned about another attack on the city, down from 74 percent in a poll last October. Only 35 percent said they felt safe. One in three reported thinking about Sept. 11 daily; one in five had talked about it weekly. Of those who had thought or talked about it, most said they became choked up at least some of the time.

Tony DiTomasso, a 49-year-old paramedic for New York Presbyterian Hospital, said two of his colleagues were killed at the World Trade Center that day. "I sometimes wonder what the heck made me different from those guys," he said in a follow-up interview. "And a woman parked in an ambulance next to mine: she's dead. What caused me to zig and her to zag?

"I still don't sleep well occasionally — like last night, I woke up every half-hour. I'll look at everything every now and then, remembering the buildings coming down, and I feel it in my gut. Sometimes I'll get a pang in my heart, like when I miss the two guys that died. So whenever I'm at work, I'm still dealing with what happened."

For those less directly affected, life returned to normal more quickly. Nathan Berman, 80, a retired school principal and teacher who watched the smoke from the trade center billow up the East River toward his home on Roosevelt Island, said his everyday life had continued to be consumed by his family, his community and his work.

"It's a horrible, horrible thing," he said of Sept. 11. "But for someone who was in the Battle of the Bulge, it's not the end of the world."

Mike Davies, 56, an unemployed computer scientist who lives in Jackson Heights, Queens, said he flew to London the week after Sept. 11 and has deliberately adhered to his daily routine at home. The attack is a fait accompli, he said; nothing can be done about it. He conceded that perhaps he is blocking the memory out — an observation others made about themselves.

"It makes it easier to go about my everyday life if I don't think about it," Ms. Schwartz said. "But it may also be that with terrorism, or the fears of terrorism, the danger is so diffuse. Maybe the fact that New York was struck once means it's a prominent target, but maybe it means that next time they'll strike somewhere else."

Thirty-three percent of those polled said they thought New York City would be a better place to live in 15 years — down from 54 percent in October, but higher than the percentages in polls in the 1980's and 1990's. Twenty-three percent predicted that New York would be worse, up from 11 percent last fall but less than in earlier decades. Thirty-eight percent said it would be the same.

While New Yorkers remained fairly confident that the city's economy will recover from the effects of the attacks, those who said they were very confident dropped to 36 percent, down from 48 percent in June. Forty-nine percent said they believed the threat of terrorism was greater in New York than in other cities, down from 60 percent of people polled in June.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the attitudes of New Yorkers differ noticeably from those of people elsewhere in the country who were questioned as part of another New York Times/CBS News poll made public Sunday. For example, 47 percent of New Yorkers said they approved of the way President George W. Bush is handling his job, compared with 63 percent of people polled nationwide.

Fifty-seven percent of people nationally, compared with 48 percent of New Yorkers, said their life had not changed as a result of Sept. 11.


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