In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, much public attention was placed on the lives lost, as well as the heroic actions of emergency personnel who responded to the attack. Nine years later, two new studies have shown that children who were directly impacted by the event (either through witnessing it directly, or by living with a parent who suffers PTSD as a result of the attacks) have lasting and significant mental health issues because of their experiences.
One study sought to determine which had a stronger impact on preschool-aged children’s psychological well-being: experiencing the attacks first-hand, or experiencing their mother’s psychological problems triggered by the attack. Essentially, it’s a look at whether short term direct exposure or long term indirect exposure to terrorism is more harmful to children. The results showed that the indirect exposure was more harmful. Children whose mothers suffered PTSD and depression had consistently higher rates of depression, anxiety, aggression, and sleep problems.
A second study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, looked at mothers and adolescents from Lower Manhattan schools who had experienced varying directness of exposure to the 9/11 attacks. In this case, almost all had high levels of both depression and PTSD. This indicates that it may not have been just the event itself, but its long-term impact on the entire community, that created adverse mental health trends in those populations. However, first-hand exposure (such as actually seeing the planes strike the buildings) bumped the PTSD and depression rates even higher. Taken together, these studies show that children perceived as ‘too young to understand’ or ‘old enough to be okay’ all are susceptible to depression, PTSD, anxiety, aggression, and sleep problems, even if they didn’t experience the attack directly. Responding to the mental health needs of these children through psychotherapy and PTSD treatment is essentially to helping them establish balanced and health mental habits as they continue to develop.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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