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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Ground Zero ironworkers ‘have significant psychiatric symptoms’

Embargoed until 02 February 2009

Ironworkers who worked on the clean-up operation at Ground Zero experienced significant psychiatric problems in the months after the 11 September attacks, new research has shown.

The study, published in the February issue of the Psychiatric Bulletin, found many of the workers experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, anxiety, depression and alcohol misuse. The researchers concluded that there was a causal relationship between psychiatric symptoms and the traumatic experience of working at Ground Zero.

124 ironworkers took part in the study. All attended the World Trade Centre Mental Health Screening Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City , between 14 and 17 months after 9/11. All the workers filled in a questionnaire designed to identify a range of psychiatric problems. More than half the workers (59.9%) were found to have psychiatric symptoms. Those who did not became the comparison group.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder were found in 18.5% of the ironworkers – compared to just 3.5% in the general adult American population. A further 3.2% of ironworkers had panic attacks (compared to 2.7% in the general population), and 6.5% had symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder (compared to 3.1%).

Rates of depression among the ironworkers were fairly similar to the general American population. However, 39.3% of ironworkers showed harmful or dependent use of alcohol – compared with rates of 3.1% for alcohol misuse and 1.3% for alcohol dependence in the general population.

None of the ironworkers in the study suffered personal injury on 9/11. However, 37.9% (47 people) lost a family member, friend or co-worker in the attacks, compared to 20% in the general population. This figure is probably higher because many of the ironworkers’ colleagues working in Manhattan and Brooklyn on 9/11 flocked to the Ground Zero site after the first of the two towers collapsed to help rescue survivors.

According to the study’s authors, it is possible that this high prevalence of death or injury to friends, family members and co-workers has increased the risk of subsequent psychiatric illness among the ironworkers.

The ironworkers were also found to be at greater risk of psychiatric symptoms if they experienced one or more negative life events in the 12 months following 9/11, such as unemployment, divorce, theft, mugging, debt, serious illness or family death.

Writing in the Psychiatric Bulletin, the researchers concluded: “Results of this study may help in planning preventive measures for future disaster scenarios. For example, observation and intervention could be focused on those ironworkers who use alcohol excessively, those whose family member, friend or co-worker was injured or killed in the disaster, or those who experience in the 12 months after the disaster one or more life events.”


For further information, please contact:
Kathy Oxtoby or Deborah Hart in the Communications Department.

Telephone: 0203 701 2544 or 0203 701 2538

 

References:

Katz CL, Levin S, Herbert R, Munro S, Pandya A and Smith R (2009) Psychiatric symptoms in Ground Zero ironworkers in the aftermath of 9/11: prevalence and predictors, Psychiatric Bulletin, 33: 49-52

 

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