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
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
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
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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