The Long-Term Reactions to Traumatic Events
"I find myself going over to the window and looking at the skyline, again and again. I just keep thinking of those people in that building." -- Audrey
In the moments and days after the World Trade Center attack, we all shared such common emotional reactions to this horrific event like fear, shock, helplessness and a profound change in the way in which we viewed our world. While these are all reactions that fall within the normal range of what we can expect to experience, now that we are more than a month away from the disaster, the persistence of these emotional states can profoundly cause one to have severe difficulty in overall functioning.
Furthermore, for people who have had previous traumatic exposures (e.g., car accidents, extreme social ridicule or combat) and for those who function with the chronic stress of an illness or poverty, there is an increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Therefore, groups that are "at-risk" might include: persons with HIV/AIDS; members of ethnic or racial minority groups; lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons; and the economically poor and homeless people. Persons with prior psychological histories of depression, mental retardation and psychosis are "at-risk" as well. Children, with their limited understanding and coping resources, struggle with attempting to make sense of traumatic events, so they often suffer from trauma and act out by exhibiting challenging behaviors rather than expressing themselves with words. All of these groups present with a risk of developing PTSD.
Mental health professionals describe PTSD, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) as follows:
If a person experiences at least three of the aforementioned symptoms for longer than one month, the diagnosis of PTSD can be made, although only by a qualified, licensed, mental health professional. Here is a simple test you can take to see if you might be "at-risk" for PTSD:
If you found yourself answering "yes" to any of the questions above, it is recommended that you speak to your doctor about getting a referral for the services of a qualified mental health counselor. In many cases, these services are part of your health care plan, whether private or Medicaid/Medicare. These are entitlement services that are designed to be used specifically in situations like national disasters. Consult a referral source or hotline for the names of mental health providers that are qualified to assist people with PTSD.
Part of the healing process for the nation starts with our focused efforts on healing our family members, our neighbors and ourselves. Please share the information in this article with your loved ones and communities. Healing our pain starts with discussing our experience and recognizing that "we are not alone."
"I thought that I was the only person who was doing these strange things like calling my boyfriend ten times a day at work to see if he was OK, or not going to visit my friend who lives on the 21st floor. I was becoming a shut-in... no subways... I would just stay in Queens. I'm getting back to normal now... little by little." -- Ramon
Dominic J. Carbone, Ph.D. is a developmental psychopathologist and Chairman of the Board of Body Positive.
Back to the November 2001 issue of Body Positive magazine.
This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.