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9/11 Workers Face Chronic Mental Impairment

Stress levels comparable to those seen in returning Afghanistan war veterans, study says

THURSDAY, May 22 (HealthDay News) -- Workers and volunteers involved in recovery efforts at the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks have much higher levels of psychological distress than the general population, new research shows.

The study analyzed mental health questionnaires completed by more than 10,000 World Trade Center recovery workers between 10 months and 61 months after Sept. 11, 2001. It found that 11.1 percent of the workers met criteria for probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 8.8 percent had probable depression, 5 percent had probable panic disorder, and 62 percent had substantial stress reaction.

In addition, PTSD in the workers was significantly associated with loss of family members and friends; disruption of family, work and social life; and higher rates of behavioral symptoms in their children.

Surveillance and treatment programs for the recovery workers need to be continued, the researchers concluded.

The study was published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

"Many who worked at Ground Zero in the early days after the attacks have sustained serious and long lasting physical and mental health problems. This study scientifically confirms high rates of mental health issues in a large number of responders," study co-author Dr. Dennis Charney, dean of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, said in a prepared statement.

Charney is also executive vice president for academic affairs at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, which offers a range of medical and mental health programs for 9/11 responders.

"The levels of PTSD prevalence (in the WTC workers) are comparable to those seen in returning Afghanistan war veterans and are much higher than in the U.S. general population and consistent with the mental health problems in the WTTC Health Registry," study co-author Dr. Jeanne Mager Stellman, visiting professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and chair of the department of environmental and occupational health sciences at SUNY-Downstate in Brooklyn, said in a prepared statement.

The study did find that the prevalence of mental health problems among WTC workers declined from 13.5 percent to 9.7 percent over the five years of observation.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about PTSD.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Mount Sinai Medical Center, news release, May 20, 2008

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