Terrorism and Disasters

Research indicates a link between experiencing events like this terrorist attack and later mental health problems for many -- especially those who were injured, directly witnessed the death of others, or experienced the loss of family members and friends.

Rescue workers and caretakers of the injured and bereaved also may experience significant mental distress. Because terrorist attacks are deliberate, extremely violent, and involve huge numbers of casualties, those who suffer lasting psychological effects may number in the hundreds of thousands. Even those who only watch the events unfold on TV may experience strong psychological reactions.

People’s reactions to violent events with loss of life vary greatly and there are no correct or incorrect responses. All survivors, including witnesses to the events, even those who only watched it on TV, may experience fear, disbelief, and helplessness in the initial days after the event. Over time they may experience, among other things, feelings of horror, anxiety, depression, and even numbness (lack of feelings).

People may keep reliving images of the events (i.e., have “flashbacks”), have difficulty concentrating, not feel close to loved ones, and experience physical health problems. In the current tragedy, feeling of anger, blame, and rage may be common, along with feelings of irritability or even anger and violence against loved ones. Some may try to “calm down” by using alcohol or other substances. Children, like adults, may have difficulty sleeping or nightmares, and may avoid reminders of the events. They also may act out aspects of the events in their play, or avoid school, play, or being around other people.

There are no easy answers to these manifestations of suffering, but it can make a difference when people can help themselves by spending time with supportive friends and family sharing feelings and comforting each other.

Taking care of one’s self is also advised: getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and limiting use of alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes. It may help to offer assistance to others as well. Children can be helped to understand that it is normal to be upset, to express any feelings and thoughts about the events, and to return to normal routines as soon as possible. While some people recover on their own, or with the mutual help of beloved ones, given sufficient time, not everyone does.

For this reason, some people may need professional help for posttraumatic stress reactions, depression, anger, or other trauma-related mental health problems. Research has shown that 20% or more of people exposed to traumatic events typically develop clinically significant psychological problems.

Many more will experience less severe effects. If significant distress continues for many months, becomes more, rather than less, severe over time, or interferes with one’s daily ability to function, professional help should be considered.

ISTSS and other Web sites provide useful educational materials for clinicians and individuals to use in response to terror attacks around the world.

The UK Trauma Group Web site for links to trauma-related mental health services

National Center for PTSD

Istanbul Center for Behavior Research and Therapy  has developed a mental health care model for earthquake survivors that enables cost-effective delivery of psychological care to survivors using brief treatments and self-help tools.

General Information

Fact Sheets

Specialized Trauma Resources & Organizations

Children and Trauma

  • American Academy of Pediatrics-Basic guidelines for communicating with children about disasters and information for pediatricians.
  • FEMA for kids
  • Helping Children in Crisis (From the Oklahoma University Dept. of Pediatrics)
  • The United Way of New York and the New York Community Trust have established a fund to help the victims of the attacks and their families. The September Eleventh Fund will provide immediate support to established emergency assistance agencies. Anyone wishing to contribute may send their donations in care of United Way, 2 Park Ave, New York, New York, 10016 or call: 212-251-4035.

To donate to the American Red Cross contact them at 1-800-HELP-NOW or online http://www.redcross.org/

To donate to the Salvation Army contact them at 1-800-SAL-ARMY or online http://www.salvationarmy.org/

Arlington, Somerset Co. Pennsylvania, California airports and other locations The local Red Cross chapters in Arlington County, Somerset County and in Boston, LA and San Francisco are mobilizing volunteers. Licensed psychologists interested in offering disaster mental health services are asked to contact their local Red Cross chapter to volunteer. You will find your local chapter in the telephone book or use the zip code-based chapter locator at http://www.redcross.org.

For more information on organizations assisting with the relief effort visit http://www.helping.org/promos/cs_wtc.adp

To donate blood - The American Red Cross is in need of blood to replenish the nation's supply. Call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE to schedule an appointment near where you live.