Study: Psychological Distress Levels of 9/11 Workers Exceed Norms

Workers who participated in the rescue, recovery, and cleanup of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks have been found to have chronic impairment of mental health and social functioning, as well as psychological distress levels that substantially exceed the population norms. According to the study, reported in the September 2008 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, the findings of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in World Trade Center workers are similar to those encountered in U.S. war veterans returning from Afghanistan.

Over a period of approximately five years after the WTC attacks, 10,132 workers completed a series of self-administered mental health questionnaires. The questionnaires used standard instruments to assess emotional status, scaling the extent to which emotional problems disrupted work, social life, family and home responsibilities, and a measurement of changes in alcohol consumption. Workers also completed a child symptom checklist reporting their perceptions of attack-related behavioral symptoms in their children.

Of the workers studied, 8.8 percent met criteria for depression, 5 percent met criteria for panic disorders, 62 percent met criteria for substantial stress reaction, and 11.1 percent met criteria for PTSD. "Such PSTD symptoms are strongly associated with functional impairment, including interference with occupation, family, and leisure activities," wrote the study authors.

EHP editor-in-chief Hugh A. Tilson, Ph.D. said, "This study presents a number of implications for public health, and underscores the pertinent need for long-term mental health screening and surveillance, and continuing treatment programs targeting World Trade Center workers and their families." The article is available free of charge at www.ehponline.org/members/2008/11164/11164.html.

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