UAlbany Survey Shows WTC Tragedy had a Tremendous Psychic Impact
Contact: Heidi Weber (518) 437-4993
Last September, millions of people watched as television broadcast,
live, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. And that "vicarious
witnessing," according to a survey of 500 students conducted recently
by the University at Albany's Center for Stress and Anxiety has likely
had an enormous impact on the national psyche. The survey also reveals
that while twice as many women as men experienced more immediate symptoms
of stress, the same amounts of men and women were found to have post-traumatic
stress symptoms six to ten weeks following the attacks.
Center for Stress and Anxiety Disorders Director Edward B. Blanchard
and graduate student Eric Kuhn, B.A. '91, along with a few other students,
administered the survey to students primarily from the Introduction
to Psychology courses, which mandate "participation in a certain
number of research studies."
According to Blanchard, there are two types of stress. Acute Stress
Disorder occurs when an individual is victimized by an event - such
as a violent physical assault, a kidnapping, a hostage situation, or
an automobile accident - that poses the possibility of death or serious
injury to oneself or to another human being. That event, in turn, triggers
feelings of fearfulness, helplessness, or horror that cause the individual
to relive the trauma repeatedly through nightmares, flashbacks, and
hallucinations. ASD symptoms appear - and generally resolve themselves
- within four weeks of the trauma.
Symptoms that persist beyond four weeks, however, indicate Posttraumatic
Stress Disorder. PTSD, which can "show up a month or more after an incident,"
may afflict the sufferer for a lifetime.
The survey queried respondents about the number of hours they had spent
with media, including television, in the week after September 11; whether
they had personally known victims of the World Trade Center collapse,
and if so, how many. Other items on the questionnaire included whether
the respondent had spoken with victims or witnesses, ever visited the
trade center, or attended memorial services in the 14 days after the
attacks. Survey participants were also asked the proximity of their
homes to the WTC.
Of the more than 250 males sampled, 65, or 25.5 percent, displayed
ASD symptoms in the two weeks after the terrorist attacks. Of the 230-plus
female respondents, 101, or 43.7 percent, reported ASD symptoms. In
all, 166 undergraduates, or 34.2 percent of those surveyed, were found
to be suffering from symptoms associated with ASD, with women accounting
for three out of every five afflicted by the disorder.
Blanchard was "surprised," however, at the PTSD results. Although nearly
twice as many women as men had ASD, 29 men and 29 women were found to
have PTSD symptoms six to ten weeks following the attacks. "I would
have expected a gender difference there," he commented, explaining that,
several years ago, a random survey of 8,000 U.S. adults indicated that
women are about twice as likely as men to suffer from PTSD.
Analysis of the UAlbany survey data also revealed that respondents
who come from areas closer to Ground Zero were more prone to suffer
from symptoms of both ASD and PTSD than those who live farther away.
Blanchard, who has worked with automobile accident survivors, became
curious about the possible psychic effects of the terrorist attacks.
He and Kuhn "thought about what we had heard and seen September 11,"
and decided to do a survey. "What is notable about this," Blanchard
stated, "is that data from motor vehicle accidents show that 60 to 75
percent of MVA survivors who have ASD wind up with PTSD within six months.
The fact that we're finding a much lower rate may be just a difference
in the nature of the trauma."
The survey is being expanded to include information compiled at North
Dakota State University, Augusta State University in Georgia, and Mary
Washington College in Virginia. Through former students, all three have
connections with UAlbany. Mary Washington, the CSAD director pointed
out, "is about 50 miles south of the Pentagon. It's pretty close and
has psychic ties to the site of the attack." Input from the other two
institutions will offer insight into the reactions of people farther
away from the Pentagon. The data from the UAlbany survey can then be
compared with the results of the other study, which are expected this
"Before September 11, you would have had a debate as to whether watching
something traumatic happen to somebody else on television was enough
to make a person symptomatic. As far as I'm concerned, our data would
no longer question that. September 11 was a defining day for many people,
just as people of earlier generations remember John F. Kennedy's assassination
or the bombing of Pearl Harbor," said Blanchard.
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