The mental health havoc wrought by 9/11
September 11, 2001 was a date that marked everyone, especially those who were on the scene of the attacks.
The September 11 attacks resulted in the deaths of 2,996 civilians, 19 terrorists, the disappearance of 24 additional victims, and more than 25,000 wounded, left with permanent physical and mental injuries.
Every year, in commemoration of the tragic event, a ceremony is held at the foot of One World Trade Center, where the names of the victims who died that fateful day are read. The number of victims continues to increase every year.
A lot of the deaths in the aftermath of the attack were due to air pollution caused by the collapsed buildings. In 2003, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admitted there was insufficient information around the safety of the victims and workers at Ground Zero after the attack. Later, a study published in the United States National Library of Medicine showed that some 400,000 people close to the attack had been exposed to toxic substances.
In 2019, CBS revealed that, according to the federal government, more than 68 types of cancer are on the list of 9/11-related illnesses, which also include other respiratory problems, asthma, dementia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Although the physical wounds were difficult to heal —many of the injured had severe burns, cuts, disabilities and respiratory issues from inhaling smoke — the mental health toll has stuck around longer.
A study carried out after what happened by the New York Academy of Medicine, with a sample of more than a thousand adults residing in Manhattan, detected that within 5-8 weeks of the collapse of the Twin Towers, 7.5% had post-traumatic stress symptoms and 9.7% had depression. In individuals who lived near the World Trade Center, the percentage of the population that suffered stress rose to 20%, while depression affected 16.8%. People who helped victims also had both disorders (16.2%), and women were more affected than men.
As Mark Farfel, director of the World Trade Center Health Registry, told National Public Radio, "the 9/11 disaster in New York has had long-term repercussions for both responders and civilians."
Farfel has monitored the health of more than 70,000 people directly exposed to the attacks who voluntarily entered the registry in 2003 and 2004.
According to the data collected by the registry, approximately one-tenth of those registered have continued to struggle with the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"Every time we do a survey, there are 8% to 10% who have enough symptoms to indicate post-traumatic stress disorder," said Robert Brackbill, the director of research.
Among people who experienced the disaster closely, such as building occupants or rescue and recovery workers, the rates are even higher: between 17% and 18%.
After the September 11 attacks, thousands of migrants cleaned Ground Zero where the World Trade Center was located. Over eight months these cleaners emptied and demolished other damaged buildings, and removed 1.8 million tons of debris from the area for a fee of $7.50 to $10 an hour.
At the time, these people did not know that exposure to asbestos and other toxic materials would lead to cancer and a host of respiratory illnesses, as well as post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression.
Lucelly Gil, a 65-year-old Colombian who cleaned the area of the attack for months, told the AP: “I don't like to remember the anniversaries of Ground Zero... I feel like I'm going backwards."
Gil said this because in recent years, many undocumented cleaners, some sick, “were deported,” according to social worker Rosa Bramble, who has led the Fronteras de Esperanza group on a voluntary basis in her Queens office since 2010.
The damage of September 11 not only left physical and mental wounds, but also gashes of national pain to the families of Latinos who have not felt valued after having given their lives to erase the ravages left by the terrorist attack that morning in New York City.