Sirens blared, smoke billowed, and the Twin Towers—as New-Yorkers so fondly referred to them, crumbled one after another. They were falling out of existence and into an unshakable misery that still hangs around the avenues, alleyways, and dinner tables across New York City. Across the US was a shared feeling of distress; Are they and their family going to be okay? Is their city or town going to be next? Some even wondered if this meant war on US soil. This vulnerability was a surreal—if not a nightmarish—feeling that would linger around a city and a country for years, raising concerns about mental health, addiction, morality, and treatment.
New York: For months, it seemed like all anybody heard were sirens. These sirens didn’t seem to cheer out their hope of rushing onto a scene to save a life; instead, these sirens sounded like crying over what was not salvageable–what they did not want to face. The dust from the destruction did not seem to settle. People were walking amid a cloud of dirt, concrete, and ashes from the thousands that perished. You could taste the anguish on the air, this horror that filled your eyes, your nose, your mouth, your lungs.
People had become exhausted and restless and were developing severe mental health-related disorders: anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc. Use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana increased. A survey was conducted among New Yorkers only a few months following the attacks. Results showed that PTSD and depression rates had just about doubled from the national baseline; 9.7% experienced depression symptoms compared to the baseline of 4.9%, while 7.9% became diagnosed with PTSD compared to the baseline of 3.6%. After nine months, rates of depression and PTSD began decreasing. However, substance use was increasing substantially. These studies were among the first to record data connecting traumatic events on a mass scale with substance abuse patterns. These studies implied a potential public health concern if numbers did not improve.
Reported anthrax cases via mail came out of Florida, New York, New Jersey, Washington, and elsewhere, and it was evident that our health officials needed to respond. These events would now shift the concerns of US citizens to focusing on the possibility of biological warfare. However, with the already developing health disorders among those in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the outbreak of infectious diseases stood to stress the public health system toward collapse. The CDC was under so much strain dispatching epidemiologists as needed to assist local health departments. Additional funding went into public health infrastructure to better monitor potential outbreaks of such infectious diseases.
The response was to enhance preparedness by stockpiling necessary vaccines and antibiotics and educating the public. However, the takeaway from many studies and reports suggested just how unprepared the United States was in handling an outbreak of a disease of sizable proportions, offering that it is not realistic to grow sufficient material needed to combat an epidemic on such a large scale.
The efforts to fund crucial areas to bring relief to the US health system had become seemingly scattered, lending little reassurance of when things might begin to return to some semblance of normal. Then the war started. On October 7, 2001, the US launched airstrikes on Kabul after the Taliban refused to hand over the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The country’s priorities further divided as more resources and more funding would be needed to support the war, thus jeopardizing some of the attempts to focus on treatment and medicine research.
The Afghanistan war has now waged for over 18 years, claiming a reported 2,732 US soldier lives and 20,320 US service members wounded in action. Additionally, the PTSD rates among US soldiers deployed to Afghanistan range from 11-20% compared to the general public (8%). For so many years, the war has gone on and the circumstance from which it began should never be forgotten: 9/11. It has kept that horrifying day alive, adding to the number of casualties, the number of families affected, and the number of behavioral and substance abuse cases.
The effects of 9/11 influence the US even 19 years later. It has ultimately given us a grim look at how society copes with trauma in its immediate and prolonged aftermath. Additionally, there is a great deal of stress placed on the US healthcare system and how it reacts to attending to matters that affect health on a large scale. While efforts were made to enact a better plan to respond to such events, more effort is needed. Amid a growing global pandemic, it certainly shows that health and research in medicine and treatment should be a top priority.
The effort to seek change in the healthcare system will take a significant cultural shift. Society needs to cultivate a sense of shared responsibility to understand its role in enacting such change. However, these efforts need to be pursued long after the resolution of the immediate threat. Hopefully, we will achieve such progress post-COVID.
To further educate yourself on how and where to get started, True Recovery is available 24/7. Since 2014, True Recovery has been pursuing and advocating for change and advances in addiction treatment for mental disorders. True Recovery is founded on bringing awareness to the cause by offering the best alternative treatment available. To learn more, call us at (866) 399-6528.