Study Assesses Impact of Sept. 11 on New York Schoolchildren

An Archives of General Psychiatry study of over 8,000 New York City schoolchildren six months following the World Trade Center attack finds high rates of mental disorders. Oddly, many of the children who were closest to the site of the disaster were the least psychologically damaged, possibly because they received early treatment.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

There's new research today about the effects of September 11th on schoolchildren in New York City. Researchers surveyed students six months after the attacks, and they found high rates of mental disorders. NPR's Alix Spiegel has details.

ALIX SPIEGEL reporting:

Christina Hoven of Columbia University studied over 8,000 New York City schoolchildren, and when she crunched the numbers, she was struck by the high rates of mental disorder. For example, 14 percent of the kids suffered from agoraphobia, a disorder usually found in children just 2 percent of the time. She found the same increased rates with major depression, separation anxiety, PTSD and panic disorder. But when she took her initial findings back to the CDC, they gave her a warning.

Ms. CHRISTINA HOVEN (Columbia University): They said, `People in the country aren't going to think very much of this because everyone knows that the kids in New York City are crazier than the rest of the kids in the country.'

SPIEGEL: So Hoven went back to her numbers and did some additional analysis. She looked at rates of exposure. Kids who only watched the events on television were labeled as mild exposures, while a child who had a more direct experience was classified as severe. And it turned out that kids in New York City aren't so crazy after all.

Ms. HOVEN: In almost every case, the mildly exposed New York City children were not very different or not different at all from children in the rest of the country.

SPIEGEL: Oddly, many of the children who were closest to the site of the disaster were the least psychologically damaged, probably because they'd gotten early treatment.

Ms. HOVEN: They had far more resources provided to them in terms of mental health intervention.

SPIEGEL: Hoven also points out that children farther from the Trade tower site, in the outer boroughs, tend to be immigrants, often from war-torn countries, who are more likely to have experienced a traumatic event. And, Hoven says, if there's one thing that's known, it's that a person who suffers from a traumatic event will be more vulnerable to the next traumatic event, a statistic which doesn't bode particularly well for the children of New York City.

Ms. HOVEN: And what we have now in New York City is approximately 1.2 million public schoolchildren who have had this exposure and, therefore, are at elevated risk for having a negative response to any future disastrous events.

SPIEGEL: For NPR News, this is Alix Spiegel in Washington.

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