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N.Y. children at risk from post-9/11 anxiety

/ Source: Reuters

Many children in New York City suffered lingering anxiety or depression as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and are vulnerable to further mental trauma if calamity strikes again, researchers said on Monday.

A survey of more than 8,000 children from the 4th to 12th grades found 29 percent suffered from one or more of six anxiety or depressive disorders six months after the hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center in which nearly 2,800 people died.

The most common disorders were agoraphobia, a fear of public places; separation anxiety, a fear of being apart from parents or family; and post-traumatic stress disorder, which is normally associated with soldiers after combat.

The report from Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute said a key finding was that children previously exposed to violence or other calamities prior to the hijacked plane attacks were more vulnerable to post-traumatic stress afterward.

“A significant proportion of New York City children have now experienced a major trauma (Sept. 11), rendering them more vulnerable to mental disorders in the future, especially following any new disaster,” study author Christina Hoven wrote in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

“Interventions to mitigate the effects of prior trauma, including Sept. 11, have now, therefore, become substantially more important,” she wrote.

Children who had a close relative killed or injured in the Sept. 11 attacks were more likely to experience persistent mental trauma than those who had direct experience of the attacks, such as children who attended schools near the World Trade Center towers, dubbed Ground Zero, the report said.

“This somewhat surprising finding (about children near the site of the attack) may possibly be explained by a combination of factors, such as worldwide attention to their situation, increased social support, and the fact that students in the Ground Zero area schools were the recipients of significant mental health intervention immediately after Sept. 11, 2001,” she wrote.