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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 23:15 GMT 00:15 UK
'Millions' suffered 11 September trauma
100,000 New Yorkers suffered post traumatic stress
Millions of Americans suffered symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after watching the 11 September attacks on television, say US psychologists.

About 4% of Americans living outside New York City and Washington DC reported signs of psychological distress, according to a new study.

But New Yorkers who witnessed the devastating attacks directly were hardest hit with about one in 10 suffering symptoms.


The prevalence of probable PTSD was also significantly associated with the number of hours of TV coverage of the attacks

Dr William Schlenger
Full-blown PTSD is a health condition linked to a traumatic experience. Symptoms include flashbacks, painful emotions and panic attacks.

Exposure to a traumatic event via television is not generally included in the formal definition of the disorder.

But the researchers, based at the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, think the events of 11 September may be an exception.

"The prevalence of probable PTSD was significantly higher in the New York City metropolitan area (11.2%) than in Washington DC (2.7%), or other major metropolitan areas (3.6%), and the rest of the country (4%)," they write in the journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

"The prevalence of probable PTSD was also significantly associated with the number of hours of TV coverage of the attacks that participants reported watching on 11 September and in the following few days and with the number of different kinds of potentially traumatic events participants reported seeing."

Divided opinion

"I would be sceptical about making a formal diagnosis of PTSD based purely on TV exposure," says Leslie Carrick-Smith, a British psychologist and trauma expert.


It is unclear what will become of the early distress responses and psychiatric symptoms identified in the study

JAMA review
"Obviously every case must be considered in its own circumstances," he told BBC News Online.

"Some people may be affected emotionally by what they see on TV."

Dr William Schlenger and colleagues surveyed 2,273 adults across the US in a web-based study carried out between October and November last year.

The researchers looked at direct exposure to the attacks and exposure through watching on TV.

The participants were asked how much time they had spent watching and what they had seen.

Mental health snapshot

In an accompanying report in JAMA, two US researchers say the long term psychological effects of 11 September are unclear.

Dr Carol North, of Washington University, St Louis, and Dr Betty Pfefferbaum, of the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, say early post-disaster research findings provide a valuable glance at the nation's mental health shortly after the 11 September attacks.

But these data do not necessarily predict what might be expected over time.

"It is unclear what will become of the early distress responses and psychiatric symptoms identified in the study by Schlenger et al, such as how many will develop into chronic psychiatric illness and how many will resolve spontaneously," they write.

Previous research estimated that more than 100,000 New Yorkers showed signs of the disorder.

The first major report by the New York Academy of Medicine found that nearly one in 10 people living in the lower third of Manhattan reported major depression they believe was linked to the atrocity.

Many had trouble sleeping and, when they did, repeatedly dreamt about the disaster.

See also:

19 Sep 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
13 Oct 99 | Medical notes
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