PTSD High in NYC After September 11

In the early aftermath of September 11, the rate of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among New Yorkers was about twice the usual US rate, according to study results released Wednesday.

Researchers say their findings are "not surprising," and that studies should continue to follow the psychological consequences of the attacks. Moreover, understanding these consequences will help public-health experts plan for dealing with the psychological fallout of any future disasters, the study's lead author told Reuters Health. Of the more than 1000 adults interviewed for the study, 7.5% reported symptoms of PTSD and nearly 10% had symptoms of depression, according to findings published in the March 28th issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Research has suggested that fewer than 4% of Americans experience PTSD in a given year--about half the rate found in the current study. Similarly, about 10% of respondents reported significant current depression, which is twice the estimated national rate, according to the study authors, led by Dr. Sandro Galea of the New York Academy of Medicine. Going into the study, it was hard to know what to expect in terms of numbers, Dr. Galea said in an interview. "There [have been] no other disasters of this magnitude in this country that were human-made," he added.

The researchers interviewed residents of Manhattan 5 to 8 weeks after the attacks. Respondents were considered to have possible PTSD if their symptoms had been present during the past month and had persisted for at least 2 weeks. The data were collected through telephone interviews of randomly selected subjects who lived south of 110th Street. Dr. Galea's team found that residents living fairly close to the World Trade Center site--below Canal Street--were particularly likely to have PTSD symptoms, as were Hispanic respondents and those who lost possessions in the attacks. Respondents who said they had panic attacks immediately after the assaults were 7.6 times more likely than others to report PTSD symptoms.

Those who lost friends, relatives or their jobs were, not surprisingly, at increased risk of depression. Hispanic respondents, those who suffered panic attacks and those who said they had low levels of social support were also more likely to report depression, the findings show.

N Engl J Med 2002;346:982-987, from Reuters Health, March 27, 2002

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