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David Baxter PhD

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Mental health symptoms common at Pentagon after 9/11
by Becky Ham
Health Behavior News Service

About 40 percent of Pentagon personnel screened for mental health disorders in the four months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were at high risk for problems like generalized anxiety, panic attacks, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or alcohol abuse, a new study finds.

Nearly 21 percent of the individuals screened in the study also say the attacks impaired their daily functioning, according to the report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"A substantial number of survey respondents reported emotional distress" after the attacks, epidemiologist Nikki Jordan, M.P.H., of the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine and colleagues conclude.

Although the reported rates of distress are high, the researchers say, they are "comparable to rates seen in other populations after terrorist attacks."

Jordan and colleagues offered a comprehensive survey addressing possible exposures and health outcomes following the attack to all Pentagon personnel between October 2001 and January 2002.

4,739 individuals, or a quarter of Pentagon personnel contacted, participated in the survey. Most participants were male with slightly more than half being civilians.

Most of the participants found to be at high risk for mental problems reported symptoms consistent with generalized anxiety, panic attacks or depression. About 8 percent were at high risk for post-traumatic stress disorders and less than 3 percent were at risk for alcohol abuse. More than half of the personnel who screened positive for the mental health high-risk groups were at risk for two or more of these disorders.

Seventy-nine percent of the respondents said they were in or near the Pentagon at the time of the attack or the subsequent rescue effort. About a third of those reported being near Pentagon areas that were damaged in the attack. 3.5 percent of respondents said they were injured as a result of the attack.

The researchers acknowledge that the number of personnel reporting signs of mental distress may be slightly higher than expected, since those in distress may have been more likely to fill out the screening survey.

People at high risk for mental health problems were also more likely to seek counseling from a mental health professional or chaplain after the attack, the researchers found. Not all high-risk individuals sought out help, however, suggesting further outreach is needed, according to Jordan.

"Stigma and other barriers to receiving treatment are widespread, and it is likely there are higher levels of concern about potential career consequences of mental health treatment among military or senior Department of Defense personnel than among civilian working populations," she says.

The survey included a newly designed mental health screening tool produced in part by coauthor Dr. Charles Hoge of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

The study was supported by Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), a federal funding program specifically established in support of the Department of Defense efforts in dealing with the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
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