Fifteen long years have passed since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, but for many, even fifteen years cannot erase the tragedy. Even now, countless first-responders and survivors are still fighting a battle with their mental health.
Many survivors of the 9/11 attack were deeply traumatized. The tragedy claimed the lives of 2,996 people, 343 firefighters, and 23 police officers. Among so many casualties, it is easy to forget the unseen toll that this trauma has taken.
According to Scientific American, a survey of the general population impacted by the 9/11 attacks shows that 5 percent of people present suffered symptoms of PTSD one year after the trauma, and only 3.8 percent two years after the trauma. This follows a typical decline after a traumatic event, as people gradually heal and cope with what has taken place.
Unlike the general population, large numbers of retired firefighters are still struggling with the effects of the World Trade Center attacks. According to NYC.gov, over 8,000 firefighters enrolled in the FDNY World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program. Just within the first six-months after the trauma, 12 percent of those firefighters were diagnosed with PTSD symptoms.
Instead of these numbers declining for retired firefighters, it was found that nearly 22 percent were still suffering from PTSD symptoms four or six years after the initial trauma. It seems that the first responder training to delay emotional response to high stress activities, could potentially be affecting those who responded to the World Trade Center attacks to this day.
Those responders within the New York community who registered with the World Trade Center Health Registry and were diagnosed with chronic PTSD, also reported higher rates of depression and panic disorders than the general population across the United States. Specifically, those with PTSD were at a 13.9 times higher risk of developing depression than those who do not have PTSD and 9.2 times more likely to develop panic disorder than those without PTSD, according to “The Lancet.”
Liam Flaherty was among the firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He was not on duty with Rescue Engine 4 in Queens that day, but all available bodies were called to help with the scene. Flaherty describes watching one of the World Trade Center towers collapse, and knowing that many firefighter brothers lost their lives in attempt to save others.
Through Flaherty’s dedication to save lives on 9/11 and beyond he has now been promoted to Captain of Rescue 2 in Brooklyn, where he still remembers the lives of those who were lost in the attacks.
Adrian Pierce was a worker for Wachovia Bank on the 47th floor of the North Tower. On the World Trade Center Memorial website, she recounts making her way out of the building after the plane hit the first tower. Pierce remembers that the most injured were making their way down first, and then says that she no longer remembers some moments during the attack.
However, the impact does not stop with first responders or first hand witnesses. Though children may not have been completely aware of the impact of the 9/11 attacks, studies have shown that the child distress over the trauma directly correlates to parental distress in combination with the tragic images of the World Trade Center towers collapsing.
In order to deal with significant mental trauma, psychologists and researchers have been working over the past decade to determine the best way to help those suffering to heal after the terrorist attacks.
Psychological first aid has now become more prevalent in helping those with PTSD heal than any kind of intervention sessions. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has also been highly useful in helping those who are directly impacted by acts of terrorism.
The United States of America is clearly still working on healing after fifteen years. Children, parents, volunteers, and first responders all remember the day that their world stood still, as they waited to hear from family members and loved ones.
The reach of this tragedy is far more than just 2,996 deaths. It is the families who are missing someone dearly, over a decade later. It is thousands upon thousands of people who are still struggling to cope with the events of that day.