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WTC Disasters and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

First known as shell shock, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a heightened emotional reaction to a known or unknown trigger that immerses a victim in severe anxiety, flashbacks and cascading physiologic response.

While a strong memory is not by itself a symptom of PTSD, that same strong memory can be accompanied by other symptoms including:

  • Intrusive thoughts, memories and flashbacks
  • Difficulty sleeping, engaging in life or being hopeful
  • Easy agitation, anger or loss of control

A Columbia University study evaluated more than 3,000 civilian survivors evacuated from the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Approximately two to three years following the terrorist attack, almost 95 percent of the survivors reported one PTSD symptom and 15 percent screened positive for PTSD. For those survivors, the following factors were predictors of the occurrence of PTSD:

  • Experiencing an injury
  • Being witness to a horrible action
  • Being caught in the dust cloud after structural collapse
  • Location on an upper floor after the attack

As could be expected, PTSD is more likely to be experienced by those caught in the direct path of death. In this case, late evacuation exacerbated the experience. A 2013 study suggested high risk responders like police may be more resilient to PTSD, but benefit from screening, support and treatment efforts.

Responder or resident, PTSD affects quality of life, functioning and health. If you are concerned about PTSD, speak with a qualified health care provider.

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