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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Mental legacy of terror strike
Fireman
Emergency workers are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress
Survivors of the trade center and Pentagon attacks - and relatives of those who died - face a struggle against stress and depression, say experts.

The American Red Cross says that much of its focus in the coming days would be to provide support and counselling to people left emotionally devastated.

And New Yorkers have been urged to ring mental health helplines to talk about the disaster.

Mark Ackerman, from St Vincent's Hospital in the city, said: "We have all suffered a terrible trauma and we need to understand it and our feelings - and to talk about it."

In the UK, the man who helped lead counselling efforts following the Lockerbie disaster in 1988 says that the toll is likely to be heaviest among emergency workers.

praying
Many have turned to religion in the aftermath
John McGuinness told BBC News Online: "They are smelling the blood. It makes a big difference."

He was principal social worker with Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council when a terrorist bomb brought down the Pan-Am flight over the Scottish town.

He says that television coverage of the New York and Washington DC attacks has brought back a feeling he has not experienced in the 13 years since he drove up to Lockerbie and saw luggage from the jumbo jet scattered in the surrounding fields.

He spent the following days helping bereaved relatives.

Impossible questions

"What was surprising was that these people were asking impossible questions - they wanted to know exactly what had been the last thoughts of their loved ones before they died.

"They wanted all the gory details - it it human nature, I am afraid."

The reaction of relatives, and of the people of Lockerbie itself followed a predictable pattern, starting at stunned disbelief, and moving within days to a raging desire for vengeance.

However, even though the term "post-traumatic stress disorder" was used less in the 1980s, its devastating effects were felt strongly among emergency workers.

Long-term effects

In the US, police and firemen will have to cope with not only the loss of hundreds of their colleagues, but sights which will undoubtedly haunt them forever.

At Lockerbie, the impact was severe among the emergency services.

"We had at least a couple of people who committed suicide shortly after the disaster, said Mr McGuinness.


There will be plenty of people who will be terrified to go into tall buildings, or to get on a plane

John McGuinness
"This was certainly related to what they had seen.

"It is so important to provide counselling for these people, to give them a chance to talk through their feelings."

Long-term effects are likely among anyone close to the tragedies.

"There will be plenty of people who will be terrified to go into tall buildings, or to get on a plane.

"This will change their lives forever."

This opinion was backed by Dr Michael Isaac, a consultant psychiatrist at London's Maudsley Hospital, who claimed that even watching the television pictures of the disaster could have an effect.

He said: "Once people go beyond shock they often develop post-traumatic stress disorder. They will re-experience the trauma through repeated nightmares or daytime flashbacks.

"Some may never get over it."

Helplines suggested by St Vincent's Hospital (US only) include, for counselling, 1-800 HELPNOW or, for blood donations 1-800 GIVELIFE.

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