Family Holidays

Guide to planning seasonal celebrations

Voters' Voices

Jobs, the economy and the 2004 presidential election

Holiday Movie Preview 2004

Multimedia slide show with capsule previews of upcoming films

Standardized Testing 101

A primer for parents

Deadly Weapons in Dangerous Hands

Special report about weapons of mass destruction

Losing Ground

Special report: Wetlands' demise ripples across nation

Iraq: After Saddam

Continuing coverage of the conflict in Iraq


Ground zero workers still dealing with demons, study finds

Airline security overlooks potentially disastrous loophole

By Greg Barrett

Skies could be safer for $1 billion

By Greg Barrett

Study: Ground zero workers still dealing with demons

By Greg Barrett

Federal aid for 9-11 recovery plentiful, but N.Y. waiting for checks

By John Mahachek

 

Looking back. Moving ahead.

Two years after terrorist attacks stunned the nation and changed the world, a six-day series by The Journal News considers the impact on the past, the present and the future. (Opens in new window)

 

Coming later today

From WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C.: Watch streaming video of events commemorating the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

 

More headlines

(Links open in new windows)

Photo gallery: 9-11 remembered two years later

From USATODAY.com

Tears of 9/11 rush back as children read names

From USATODAY.com

Bush keeps remembrance low-key

From USATODAY.com

Media devote extensive coverage to commemoration ceremonies

From USATODAY.com

Trade Center survivors rebuild lives at their own pace

From USATODAY.com

As tragedy's anniversary nears, 9-11 events begin

From USATODAY.com

Six fronts in the war to fight terror

From USATODAY.com

Closure elusive for families of many 9-11 victims

From USATODAY.com

Interactive documentary: Stories from those left behind

From USATODAY.com

Interactive graphic: 9-11 by the numbers two years later

From USATODAY.com

Emotional impact of 9-11 blunts as world changes

From The Arizona Republic

Why no answers yet? 9-11 widows persist in asking questions

From the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press

Reminders of 9-11 everywhere

From the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press

From gray ash of landfill, families seek proper burial of 9-11 victims

From the (Bridgewater, N.J.) Courier News

9-11 led some to follow dreams

From The (Morris County, N.J.) Daily Record

Memorials offer families quiet place to contemplate

From The (Morris County, N.J.) Daily Record

Extra security alters work force, way we live

From The Indianapolis Star

Experts see gaps in efforts to guard U.S. food supply

From The Des Moines Register

Recalling 'Surreal day on Pennsylvania field'

From the Battle Creek (Mich.) Enquirer

Commentary: Secrecy clouds our liberty

From the Battle Creek (Mich.) Enquirer

Musical Flash montage of 9-11 images

From the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times

9-11 headline put feelings into sharp focus on that awful day

From The Detroit News

Public tragedy, private pain for Delaware family

From The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal

Kids still remember unforgettable day

From the (East Brunswick, N.J.) Home News Tribune

Baseball takes time out for 9-11

From USATODAY.com

Official list of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks

From USATODAY.com

By GREG BARRETT | GNS

NEW YORK — A construction foreman began kicking his beloved dog whenver he felt angry. An ironworker lost interest in sex. An electrician lost all patience to help his children with their homework.

Nearly two years after the terror of Sept. 11, 2001, many rescue and recovery workers say they no longer recall their nightly dreams - which might be for the best. Others say they see the mangled bodies in their sleep.

A building tradesman told psychiatrist Rebecca Smith that he is scared to close his eyes at night unless he’s intoxicated. He keeps seeing a decomposing torso he helped cut from the wreckage.

An unprecedented study examining the psychological toll of 9-11 on 6,500 ground zero workers estimates that half still experience mental tremors from the World Trade Center’s collapse. Sifting about 18,000 body parts from 1.8 million tons of ruin was an emotional hammer, say researchers who recently completed their first year of counseling workers and collecting data.

The WTC Worker-Volunteer Mental Health Screening Program deals primarily with members of New York’s building trades, a hard-hat fraternity that outnumbered police and firefighters during ground zero’s immediate aftermath. The study is believed to be the first of its kind to examine the mental health of civilians who responded to a disaster site.

Other studies have looked at the psychological impact on emergency professionals, such as firefighters responding to the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, but none has tracked the long-term emotional scarring of workers who are more accustomed to construction sites than to crime scenes.

“I had to contemplate real hard going down there. I don’t like gory scenes,” said Bronx carpenter Bobby Doremus, who was renovating a Manhattan Victoria Secret’s when the hijacked jets struck the twin towers eight miles away. “When I was down there I looked the other way as much as I could.”

One day Doremus was 20 or 30 men deep in a bucket brigade when a severed head in a pail passed his way. He recalls vividly the frosty blonde hair dusted with a layer of dirt.

Unique opportunity

The World Trade Center project could write new science because of its scope and makeup. It’s the sad silver lining of a terrorist act on the scale of 9-11.

“The sheer numbers of people we are seeing - in the thousands - that’s not really been done for any responders, whether they were traditional first responders or not,” said study coordinator Craig Katz, director of psychiatric emergency services at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center.

An estimated 18,000 to 35,000 people helped in the emergency effort at ground zero - firefighters, police, and a motley mix of skilled labor from New York’s building trades who volunteered by the busload.

“I just wanted to give a hand any way I could, even if it meant giving someone a drink of water,” Doremus said. “When I got there it looked like 10,000 other construction workers had had the same idea.”

According to a preliminary analysis of Katz’s project, many of the carpenters, welders, electricians, sheetmetal workers and the like who responded to ground zero “have persistent emotional and psychological issues” today stemming directly or indirectly from the experience.

About one-fifth of the workers surveyed show all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder - anger, insomnia, depression and an overall inability to enjoy life. That is more than double the average rate of PTSD experienced by people in the general population who encounter traumatic events.

Another one-third of workers participating in the World Trade Center study report some symptoms of PTSD, which has Katz searching psychiatric diagnoses for an official definition. There is none. For now, Katz and Smith are calling it simply, “unnamed suffering.”

“We think we are picking up on something and we don’t know if that means it is post-traumatic stress disorder on the wane … or something that never rose to the level” of a diagnosable mental health problem, Katz said.

But the corrosive effect can be nearly the same as that of a definable disorder, especially if it goes untreated and affects life at home, work and play.

“Some guys come in and say they no longer have a sex drive or they no longer want to coach their son’s youth soccer or they just have no energy,” said Smith, one of the study’s three psychiatrists and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai.

Blaming it on age

The workers don’t always blame ground zero, even though the transformation can be tracked there. “Instead, the 50-year-old guys will say, ‘I’m just getting older’ and the 20-year-old guys will say, ‘Well, I’m not 18 anymore,’” Smith said.

Like Doremus, the 38-year-old union carpenter, many of the workers scoff at this idea of emotional baggage. They are not likely to schedule appointments with a psychiatrist or participate in mental health studies.

It’s why Katz hitched his study to the World Trade Center medical screenings and housed it in a brownstone that looks more like a New York co-op than a hospital.

The strategy worked. The blue-collar volunteers from 9-11 are coming in by the thousands. “We are learning their stories and getting access to their emotional lives in a way that you never would if you just set up a shingle and said we are mental health professionals here to help you deal with the trauma,” Katz said.

Still, he worries about the ones who aren’t being screened: “Who are the people not showing up? Are they in fact worse off than those we are seeing? We don’t know.”

He may never know. The project is primarily funded by the Robin Hood Foundation, a New York nonprofit that focuses on inner-city poverty. Almost all of the $11 million in federal grant money allocated for medical screenings of 9-11 workers was applied to the study of physical maladies.

“In general after a disaster,” Katz said, “mental health just gets neglected since it’s more intangible and somewhat invisible.”

Doremus, for one, didn’t think he was even marked by 9-11, although he is more easily angered today and has occasionally wept from the memories. One day he was alone in his apartment and suddenly started crying while watching the TV news.

“OK, so maybe I am affected in some ways. Maybe I did get scarred,” he said, sounding gruff and matter-of-fact. “I wasn’t an emotional person before.”

Nor was R. Delia Mannix. The retired police lieutenant from Queens used to consider herself easygoing. But after spending the better part of five months in the muck of ground zero with firefighters, police, construction workers and the pervasive smell of death, she began to behave like a hothead.

Or as she put it, “I was having really inappropriate reactions to the minor dumb stuff of life.”

After reluctantly filling out the mental health survey for Katz’s project, she returned to the Manhattan clinic. She visits Smith there about once a week. Her mood is improving and this month she began sleeping through the night.

But she no longer remembers her dreams - a source of frustration and relief.

“After the attack I said life will never be the same again,” Mannix said. “That’s the line in the sand. That’s where life was before and that’s where it is now. … How can things ever return to normal?”

© 2003, Gannett News Service