Why do people memorialize individual grief and collective tragedy? A father’s death, the national trauma of 9/11, your anniversary with an ex, an unfortunate medical diagnosis, the date of a breakup or a betrayal.
tempting to finish this disaster under midnight sun
so you’re not luckyyour courage wasted time
you look a little thin
your courage and mine lay down your arms
you were plenty strong i’ve heard enough of your howling
say you succumb
are you completely numb? your gentle aftershock shock
your fragile aftershock shock
-Kristin Hersh, Gin — http://kristinhersh.cashmusic.org/series2/
The Journal of Traumatic Stress has a special 10 year issue on “9/11 trauma studies”:
Special Section: The September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks: Ten Years After
This issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress contains a special section on the consequences of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC that occurred on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 (9/11). It is a truism to note that this man-made terrorist disaster fundamentally, and permanently, altered the world view of the citizens of the United States, at least those who were old enough to appreciate its meaning. For the latter, however, their world view has always included the reality of the collapsing WTC towers and its horrible aftermath. It is also fair to say that the world view of citizens of many other countries around the world was also fundamentally and permanently altered. Victims of 9/11 came from over 70 countries. As well , 9/11 propelled emergency services workers (e.g., police, firefighters, and search and rescue personnel) and the role they play in disasters into the forefront of associations with 9/11. The 9/11 attacks also increased public awareness of the psychological processes that are required to adapt to and recover from exposure to traumatic stress (e.g., Weiss, 1993) and that such processes can be, blocked, derailed, or overwhelmed.
The first article published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress that mentions the WTC appeared in the February issue of Volume 15, which was published in 2002 (Koplewicz, Vogel, & Gallagher); ironically it was a study of the impact on children and parents of the 1993 bombing of the WTC, gathering data 3 and 9 months following exposure. The findings of this study were prescient for what was to follow involving the WTC only 8 years later. Exposed children reported symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and disaster-related fears; their parents reported their own symptoms of PTSD. The children did not report a decrease in symptoms at 9 months, although their parents did. The initial distress of the children was predictive of the parents’ status at 9 months.
The first paper about 9/11 published in JTS appeared 21 months after the attacks themselves (Boscarino, Galea, Ahern, Resnick, & Vlahov, 2003). Since then, there have 27 other papers in JTS describing the etiology, prevention, risk or protective factors, epidemiology, course, treatment, and recovery from exposure to 9/11, not including those in the special section. The scientific literature on 9/11 is large. As of June 2011, the PILOTS (Published International Literature on Traumatic Stress) database of the National Center for PTSD lists 518 peer-reviewed entries, and 788 of all types. The earliest are reviews, case studies, editorials, and public service and health presentations (e.g., Stephenson, 2001). It is not until the beginning of 2002 that empirical papers appeared (e.g., Galea et al., 2002).
The articles in the special section build on that legacy, and will be part of a major expansion of the 9/11 literature as many other journals will be publishing special sections or issues commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It will be of interest to observe how large that contribution will be. The content in the special section is diverse, comprising among others, the impact of potential genetic vulnerability (Holman, Lucas-Thompson, & Lu, this issue), longitudinal findings for disaster workers (Cukor et al., this issue), suicidal ideation in children (Chemtob, Madan, Berger, & Abramovitz, this issue), and ex
ploration of trauma response using evoked potentials (Tso, Chiu, King-Casas, & Deldin, this issue).
It would be a failure of compassion and empathy not to take note of the impact that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 will almost certainly have on the families, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances of those whose lives were lost or altered by injury or illness as a consequence of exposure to the attacks. Though it is well established that acute responses ebb over time, it is also well established that anniversaries are times when the pain of loss is more sensitive. One of the most well-established findings in the PTSD literature is the positive role of social support (e.g., Ozer, Best, Lipsey, & Weiss, 2003). As we consider what we have learned from the study of the consequences of 9/11, we might well consider providing support to those who could benefit from it.