The terrible events that shook the country Sept. 11 destroyed more than buildings. America is facing many longs weeks of rebuilding and an even longer time for the country’s recovery.
People who have witnessed or have been involved in this event are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD affects people who experience a traumatic event where they may have felt hopeless and terrified or if their lives were at risk. Events such as personal assaults, natural or human disasters, accidents or military combat are all classified as traumatic events.
Following the atrocities in New York and Washington, D.C., University Health Services counselor Robert McGrath said there will “definitely” be an increase in PTSD in the people who were directly affected by this event. The duration, proximity and severity of an individual’s exposure to the traumatic event are the most important factors in developing this disorder.
PTSD is diagnosed by three main symptoms: Intrusion, which includes flashback and nightmares; avoidance of people who trigger the memory of the traumatic event; and hyper-arousal, which can include hyper-vigilance or startled responses.
Acute Stress Disorder is a stress disorder less severe than PTSD. Its symptoms appear and subside within a four-week period. PTSD symptoms occur anywhere within the first three months after the trauma and can last up to 12 months after the trauma.
“It is important to remember that there is not a standard pattern of reaction to trauma,” social work professor Sarah Kohn said. “One’s own reaction can be like ones fingerprint: uniquely one’s own and not necessarily better or worse than the way someone else might react.”
Symptoms of ASD can also be seen in victims far away from the location of the tragedy. In such cases, if a stable support system is built around the person, it may not be necessary to seek professional treatment.
Treatments for PSTD include cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, exposure therapy and medication. Kohn places an emphasis on early intervention when dealing with stress management or mental-health services.
Along with PTSD, a person may experience symptoms of survivor’s guilt linked to the disease.
“Survivor’s guilt is a complex mixture of emotions that include relief that oneself is still alive, yet guilt that others died,” said McGrath.
PTSD and survivor’s guilt depends highly upon the individual’s personal experience stemming from the tragedy and his/her background of other experiences.
“[Survivor’s guilt] is a normal reaction and may help the person find meaning and make sense out of their experiences, cope with feelings of helplessness and powerlessness in a situation where they did not have the ability to protect or save others, and express a connection with those who have died, in a way, keeping them alive,” said Kohn.