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How Americans Are Handling Post 9/11 Trauma

Eighteen years ago, more than 60% of Americans watched as the worst terror attack ever to occur on U.S. soil unfolded on television

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empire, state, building, us, 9/11, terrorism, safety
Covered in dust, ash and falling debris on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, New York City Transit's express coach #2185 could have been written off and sent off to scrap. It was decided, however, to rebuild her as a symbol of NYC Transit’s resiliency and a rolling example of the dedication of the agency’s employees. Wikimedia Commons

Eighteen years ago, more than 60% of Americans watched as the worst terror attack ever to occur on U.S. soil unfolded on television — either in real time or in repeated replays.

That up-close view of the murders of almost 3,000 people jolted Americans out of the sense of security they’d enjoyed at least since World War II.

“I think that up until that time, perhaps people were more optimistic or certainly had a sense that it couldn’t happen here. Terrorist attacks were something that happened overseas, but not in the United States on our soil,” says Roxane Cohen Silver, professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine.

“The concept of fearing violence on a day-to-day basis just wasn’t part of the existence of most people in the United States.”

Empire State building, US, New York, 9/11, trauma, mental health
TV viewers said the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack was the all-time most memorable moment shared by television viewers during the past 50 years, according to a 2012 study. VOA

Cohen Silver, who studies the impact of collective trauma, says some individuals with no direct connection to the 9/11 attacks exhibited symptoms that experts had previously assumed were the result of direct exposure to trauma.

“Individuals who watched a great deal of television in the first week after 9/11 were more likely to exhibit post-traumatic stress symptomatology and physical health ailments years later,” she says.

Those symptoms often included anxiety and fear, as well as the onset of physical health ailments such as cardiovascular issues.

“We learned from 9/11 that large-scale events could impact people beyond the directly affected communities, that the events that occurred in New York could impact people in Kansas,” Cohen Silver says. “The second message we’ve learned from 9/11 was the important role of the media in transmitting that awareness and that potential anxiety.”

Empire State building, US, New York, 9/11, trauma, mental health
Students and others watch live television coverage of the 9/11 attacks on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, Sept. 11, 2001.
VOA

In the 18 years since 9/11, the rise of social media and smartphones has resulted in increased access to images of mass violence. In addition, there are no news editors or other middlemen to weed out potentially disturbing content. The speed with which these images reach people has also escalated.

Young Americans born after 9/11 have grown up in a world where acts of mass violence are increasingly commonplace.

More than 230 school shootings have occurred since 1999, when 13 people were killed at Columbine High School near Denver.

Mass attacks continue to occur in places that Americans commonly view as safe spaces, from the 2016 Orlando nightclub attack that killed 49; the 2017 Las Vegas concert shooting where 58 people were killed and hundreds more wounded; to last month’s shooting at a Texas Walmart that left 22 people dead.

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“We’re so consumed with new events, you know, current events, hurricanes, mass violence events. And there are many of these that occur, and they’re all tragic,” says Cohen Silver. “But the psychological effects of September 11, 2019, cannot be directly linked to the 9/11 attacks without considering all of the rest of the things that have occurred.”

While the average American cannot control the violence around them, they can protect their mental health by not inundating themselves with images of the tragedies, which can be psychologically unhealthy.

“I believe that people can be informed without becoming immersed in the media. There’s no obvious benefit to repeated exposure to images and sounds of tragedy,” says Cohen Silver. “And so, once people are informed, I would say to practice caution in the amount of media attention that they engage and the amount of media exposure that they engage in.” (VOA)

Next Story

Why Young Americans Are Not Moving A Lot Since The Great Recession

Young American adults are staying put more since the Great Recession, but when they do move, they’re not going to the same places as they did before the economic downturn

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US, America, Millennials, Migration
Frey, who keeps expecting millennial migration rates to pick up, is disappointed with the numbers. Wikimedia Commons

Young Americans are staying put more since the Great Recession, but when they do move, they’re not going to the same places as they did before the economic downturn of 2007-2009.

In the three years leading up to the recession, more Americans in their 20s and 30s headed to Riverside (California), Phoenix, Atlanta, Houston and Charlotte (North Carolina), according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

“Those were more kind of ‘We’re coming there to buy a house and get a job and make things go,’” says demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution.

Things changed during the recession and in the years that followed.

From 2007 to 2012, America’s metro areas that gained the most millennials were Denver, Houston, Washington, D.C.; Austin (Texas) and Seattle. From 2012 to 2017, the metropolitan areas with the highest net millennial migration were Houston, Denver, Dallas, Seattle and Austin.

US, America, Millennials, Migration
Where US millennials are moving. VOA

“Young people may not be finding the job that they want and they’re not be able to buy a home that they’d like to buy,” Frey says. “At least they want to be in a place maybe where the action is for younger people, the kind with a young person’s amenities, or what you might call places with a cool factor.”

Overall, U.S. millennials are moving at the lowest rate since at least 1996. In 2017, their migration rate was 17%, well below the pre-recession number of almost 23%.

Frey, who keeps expecting millennial migration rates to pick up, is disappointed with the numbers.

“Migration is good for the economy in the sense that people are more able to adapt to changing economic circumstances… if they move to places where jobs are being created,” Frey says.

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“Especially if it’s a movement to purchase a home and to start investing in their future in terms of wealth creation and so forth. I think that’s important so that they’re not stuck in a way that makes them feel like they’re being left behind.”

Frey sees signs that millennials are starting to move to the suburbs and smaller metropolitan areas, as well as to cities located in the interior part of the United States rather than on either the East or West Coast.

“I’m suggesting that when we look at the next round of migration rates, when they come out, we’re going to see a little bit more movement to those kind of more, you know, economically viable and prosperous areas rather than to the cooler areas,” he says. (VOA)