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Published: Winter, 2004; Vol 6, Num 1

 

Counseling Still Available for Ground Zero Workers

A federal crisis counseling program designed to help rescue workers and others in New York cope with the trauma of 9/ll has been extended six months to June, 2004, as evidence of widespread emotional scarring and on-going mental health impacts continue to mount.

"Laborers who participated in the clean-up at Ground Zero and haven't been feeling right since should take advantage of this extension," says Dr. Jim Melius, Administrator of the New York State Laborers Health & Safety Trust Fund. "If you've lost energy or your sex drive, can't sleep at night, have haunting images or just don't feel like doing the things you used to enjoy, it may be connected to your experiences around 9/11. Sometimes, it can be months or years before the full impact is felt. Counseling can make a big difference."

The extended program is known as Project Liberty. Funded by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), its counseling services are free. Information is available at www.projectliberty.state.ny.us.

Data on the traumatic effects of the World Trade Center attack come from the WTC Medical and Mental Health Screening Programs that have examined about 7500 workers and tabulated results for about 1100.

While 48 percent of screened workers had ear, nose and throat problems and about 30 percent had pulmonary (breathing) problems, 56 percent reported psychological problems that warranted additional counseling.

Of those reporting psychological problems, about 19 percent have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That is more than twice the rate seen in the general population. Though, typically, PTSD symptoms peak immediately after a crisis, then decline and peak again in a year or two, PTSD reports from 9/11 have remained constant through the two years since the attack.

The symptoms of PTSD are anger, insomnia, depression and an overall inability to enjoy life.

Another 40 percent of those reporting psychological problems identified some but not all of the symptoms of PTSD. The doctors who are tabulating the reports are unsure whether these individuals experienced PTSD and their symptoms have improved or if their problem, despite its seriousness, never rose to the level of PTSD. In either case, the problems, if untreated, can have serious corrosive affects on a victim's life at home, work or play.

An estimated 18,000 to 35,000 helped in the emergency effort at the World Trade Center. Most of these were men and members of the building trades.

[Steve Clark]