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Aug. 17, 2004

Sept. 11 affected children's mental health beyond New York City

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Two years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, children nationwide—not just those in the New York City and Washington D.C. metropolitan areas—exhibited post-traumatic stress, new research shows.

Children were anxious, depressed and showed signs of "distant trauma"—nervousness or responses suggesting post-traumatic stress—according to research that will appear in the September and December special issues of Applied Developmental Science. This research is among the first comprehensive attempts to understand the impact of Sept. 11 on children and youth nationwide.

"Particularly striking is the impact Sept. 11 had on children who had no direct exposure to the attacks," said Elizabeth Gershoff, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan's School of Social Work and one of the special issues' editors. "Watching television newscasts reporting the attacks or reading about them in newspapers or on the Internet was sufficiently upsetting to children to elicit mental health symptoms."

The research encompasses eight studies written by child development and psychology experts.

One study indicated Denver youth reported more stress responses to Sept. 11 than did adults. Its author, Martha Wadsworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Denver, said that adolescents found fundraising for victims to be most helpful in their own coping with the tragedy, whereas young adults found attending religious services most helpful.

Other research found that children living in New York City showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression, mistrust of others and separation anxiety. However, while Sept. 11 was traumatic for some children, the effects were dwarfed by the impact on mental health of repeated exposure to community violence, such as shootings, muggings or physical fights, noted J. Lawrence Aber, a professor in the Department of Applied Psychology at New York University's Steinhardt School of Education and an editor of the special issues.

"Although the events of Sept.11 affected children throughout the country, the violence urban children are repeatedly exposed to in their daily lives has had a much greater impact on their mental well being," Aber said. "The efforts and services directed at students in the wake of Sept. 11th were admirable and needed, but similar efforts are clearly necessary on an ongoing basis to assist students in dealing with everyday violence."

Drawing lessons from the studies, the researchers emphasized the need to expand post-disaster mental health strategies to include a range of potential mental health reactions, such as substance abuse, separation anxiety, aggression and depression.

Applied Developmental Science is published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. It is edited by the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University (ase.tufts.edu/adsi).

Related links:

For the bio on J. Lawrence Aber, visit: www.nyu.edu/education/steinhardt/db/faculty/1343/Dept_design/0

For the bio on Elizabeth Gershoff, visit: www.ssw.umich.edu/faculty/profile-liztg.html

Additional information on the Journal of Applied Developmental Science can be found at https://www.erlbaum.com/shop/tek9.asp?pg=products&specific=1088-8691

Contacts: Jared Wadley
Phone: (734) 936-7819
E-mail: jwadley@umich.edu

Contacts: James Devitt
Phone: (212) 998-6808
E-mail: james.devitt@nyu.edu