After the Storm: Lessons from 9/11 on Need to Help Katrina Survivors Deal with Emotional Impact of Disaster; Century Foundation Issues New Report about Providing Mental Health Services to a Traumatized Population
NEW YORK, Sept. 9 -- Victims of Hurricane Katrina are receiving assistance with food, shelter and medical needs, but many disaster experts warn that survivors also may need mental health care to deal with the emotional impact of their ordeal. As government officials and nonprofit organizations gear up to offer psychological services to hurricane victims, there may be some lessons from 9/11 about what they may face and how best to help.
A new report released by The Century Foundation examines the psychological impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks and shows that the effects were both widespread and significant, especially among children. “Terrorism, Mental Health, and September 11: Lessons Learned about Providing Mental Health Services to a Traumatized Population” was written by Gerry Fairbrother, a professor at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and Sandro Galea, of the New York Academy of Medicine (authors’ bios are available online at www.tcf.org). They found that 14 percent of New York City residents exhibited symptoms associated with diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or both. Even more significantly, approximately 18 percent of children living in New York City had severe or very severe post-traumatic stress reactions in the months after the attacks, while 66 percent had moderate reactions.
Moreover, the psychological effect of the attacks extended far beyond the New York area. In a nationwide survey conducted in the days following the attacks, 90 percent of adults indicated that they were experiencing at least one symptom of mental stress, and 44 percent reported that they were experiencing one or more substantial symptoms.
The nation was caught unawares on September 11 and the mental health community was unprepared to handle the burden of easing a nation’s psychological strain. In their report, Fairbrother and Galea make it clear that there was a large gap between individuals’ need for mental health services and those they received. For example, in New York, about 85 percent of people who were directly affected by the attacks did not receive any mental health services in the six months after September 11, even though more than half reported at least one symptom of PTSD.
The researchers conclude that, in New York and elsewhere, the mental health system remains largely unprepared for the psychological consequences of another such attack. Other institutions that would provide support and counseling-schools, workplaces, and emergency responders-badly need more resources and training.
“The response to 9/11 showed that mental health services were not delivered to many who could have been helped by them, and that psychological stress occurred and lingered among both those directly and indirectly affected by the attacks,” said Professor Fairbrother. “Because of the scope and national reach of Katrina, the mental health impact has much in common with the response to a terrorist attack. In either case, we need to be better prepared to deal with the psychological effects of disasters, which can take a devastating toll if unattended.”
The authors hope the results of their study will lay the groundwork for an effort to strengthen our mental health structure and expand the ways in which we deal with large-scale traumatic events, such as another terrorist attack or a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina. They say that more understanding and planning is needed so communities and public health systems are better prepared to provide people with necessary mental health support as they attend to their economic and medical needs.
Gerry Fairbrother and Sandro Galea are available for interviews about this report and its implications for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. A copy of the report is available on The Century Foundation Web site at http://www.tcf.org. For more information, contact Christy Hicks at 212-452-2273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Century Foundation conducts public policy research and analyses of economic, social, and foreign policy issues, including inequality, retirement security, election reform, media studies, homeland security, and international affairs. The foundation produces books, reports, and other publications, convenes task forces and working groups, and operates seven informational Web sites. With offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., The Century Foundation is nonprofit and nonpartisan and was founded in 1919 by Edward A. Filene.
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