Many World Trade Center Rescue Workers Still Struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress

World Trade Center rescue workers are suffering from serious mental health problems three years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, says the New York City Heath Department. The Health Department, which studied data from the World Trade Center Health Registry, found that one in eight first responders suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of work done at Ground Zero.

About 71,000 <"">World Trade Center emergency workers are enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry. The Health Department surveyed the initial interviews of 30,000 people listed on the Registry. Those interviews were conducted between 2003 and 2004. The study included firefighters, police officers, construction workers, volunteers and even clergy who worked at Ground Zero on 9/11 and the days following the attack.

The group with the highest prevalence of PTSD was “non-associated” volunteers (people not part of an organization like the Red Cross). Their rates of PTSD were as high as 21-percent. Other non-emergency workers like construction engineers and sanitation workers also had high rates of the mental disorder. These workers were far less likely to have undergone the type of disaster training that is commonly provided to emergency professionals.

But even emergency professionals were not spared from the mental anguish brought on by the World Trade Center attacks. A little over six percent of the police officers who worked at Ground Zero have reported PTSD symptoms. And the rate of PTSD among firefighters at the site was twice that of police officers, coming in at 12.2 percent. Six times as many firefighters as police died at Ground Zero, and researchers believe grief may affect both the development and severity of PTSD.

PTSD is a devastating mental illness that can plague victims and their families’ years after the occurrence of a traumatic event. The anxiety disorder is characterized by intense fear and horror. People with PTSD will often try to avoid situations that remind them of the event that triggered the disorder, and many PTSD patients report feeling emotionless or hyper-alert. PTSD can lead to both drug and alcohol abuse, although patients with the disorder are known to respond well to counseling and medication.

In the years since the 9/11 attacks, World Trade Center rescue workers have been plagued by myriad health problems. Early this week, the New York City Health Department said that rates of asthma among first responders were 12 times higher than normal. Another study by the Mt. Sinai Medical Center also found that of 9,000 emergency workers, 70 percent had suffered some type of lung ailment after the attacks, and that 60 percent still faced respiratory problems. And a report released by the FDNY in early May reported that cases of the rare lung disease sarcoidosis had risen dramatically among firefighters and EMS workers who had spent time at Ground Zero. Public health officials have also warned that rescue workers, who were exposed to carcinogens like asbestos in the toxic World Trade Center dust, could face a high probability of developing cancers. All of these findings suggest that more misery is in store for the heroes who sacrificed so much to help others during the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.

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