Do you remember where you were or what you were doing in the early morning on September 11, 2001? I do. And, I will never forget. After dropping my boys off at school, I’d gone to the nearby gym and was running on a treadmill. I almost stumbled over my own two feet when I saw the first tower go down. I had no idea what had happened, but was in a state of disbelief. This was in Dallas, Texas.
The terrorist attacks that took place in New York City on September 11, 2001, dealt an unrecoverable blow to many. Commonly referred to as 9/11, the planes that flew into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon claimed thousands of lives, not to mention the aftermath victims of cancer or respiratory-disease that passed due to exposure to the area known as Ground Zero. Many people faced dealing with PTSD as a result of the September 11th attacks. PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, is a psychological disorder that can occur after someone is exposed to trauma.
People who lost a loved one, such as the family members who received a call from someone on the planes, often developed PTSD even though they weren’t at the actual event. First responders who were there to witness the chaos and tragedy first-hand also were susceptible to PTSD. Survivors of the attacks at the sites experienced the disorder through survivor’s guilt and the horror of losing friends and colleagues while witnessing what occurred.
What Exactly is PTSD?
PTSD is one of those terms we’ve all heard, but most of us have a vague idea of what it entails. The triggering traumatic event can include a number of circumstances in which the person affected has a hard time recovering from what they saw or experienced. PTSD can actually change the way a person’s mind functions and manifests itself with a number of symptoms.
Every case of PTSD is different. A number of factors involving the individual impact the level of the disorder: age, pre-existing mental and physical health, event that caused the PTSD, support system and help received.
PTSD can last months to years or can affect a person for the rest of their lives. Depending on the severity of the event that triggered it and factors mentioned above, people’s ability to deal with the disorder in day-to-day life has a lot of variables.
Common symptoms of PTSD
People who suffer from PTSD describe it as a feeling of not being themselves.
- Some who return to their regular existence, daily routines, family life and responsibilities after surviving or witnessing a traumatic event can find it challenging or even impossible to reintegrate.
- PTSD sufferers describe the feeling of being uncomfortable in their own skin.
- Loud noises can trigger flashbacks that heighten their fight-or-flight response, characterized by an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, difficulty breathing and a deep sense of panic.
- Panic attacks are a common symptom of PTSD, as sufferers can suddenly become overwhelmed by anything that triggers their condition.
Post 9/11 PTSD
Due to the extremity of 9/11, the cases of PTSD that developed after were significant. Not only did the event impact individuals on a personal level, it had a catastrophic impact on a national level. Americans were dealt a huge blow. It threatened their feelings of safety and wellbeing.
People who developed PTSD because of losing a loved one in such a traumatic, senseless and tragic way had grief-related triggers. These people were commonly triggered by airplanes, phone calls that reminded them of the last call they received from their loved one, crashes and threats of terrorism. For these people, memories of their loved one could trigger panic attacks and anxiety.
For people who were at the scene as first responders or who survived the 9/11 attacks, they developed PTSD from what they witnessed or from survival guilt. Witnesses saw awful things: people dead, massive destruction, a national symbol toppled, people wounded and suffering, crying and screaming.
The survivors struggling to justify why they survived, while so many other people didn’t, often report the hardest thing to deal with is the feeling of overwhelming pressure to do something worthy with their lives.
Ways of Dealing with PTSD
One of the best known ways to combat the effects of PTSD is to prevent it from developing. Counseling immediately after a traumatic event is one of the best known ways to stave off the development of the disorder. When victims of trauma have a healthy outlet and place to voice their feelings and concerns, it helps preserve their mental health. Professional mental help is a necessity for many dealing with PTSD related to 9/11 or other traumatic events.
Therapists are finding a technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to be particularly helpful to move beyond the “stuck” phase of trauma’s impact.
Medication such as anti-depressants is the drug-related way of dealing with PTSD. For some, talking it through and leaning on a support system is not enough, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are needed to calm the mind and minimize the symptoms.
If you or someone you know is still struggling from 9/11 PTSD, please reach out for help.