Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and 9/11

The September 11th Trauma

The events of 9-11-01 have caused great consternation, confusion, grief, and sadness throughout our nation. It is probably still too soon to estimate the damage to the nation's collective psyche (functioning mind). In fact, it is possible that symptoms suggesting posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will yet occur in many people across the nation, even miles from the actual physical traumatic events. Of course, the people directly affected by the actual tragedies have had and will still be expected to have a variety of responses to this posttraumatic stress.

In the wake of the September 11th tragedies, the main questions regarding PTSD are:

  • What is the difference between normal grief and the pathological (abnormal) PTSD illness? (Freud talked about this in Mourning and Melancholia)
  • What are the transient (temporary) posttraumatic stress symptoms that anyone would be expected to experience?
  • At what point in the duration of symptoms would some treatment make sense?
  • Are there ways to prevent the development of the pathological PTSD illness?

Table of Contents

Defining posttraumatic stress disorder

PTSD, as such, has been a part of organized psychiatry for only the past twenty years. The concept of PTSD, however, has been well known for over a hundred years under a variety of different names. Certainly, Freud thought that traumatic events in childhood had an effect on an individual's subsequent emotional development. Actually, however, it was his contemporary, Pierre Janet, who wrote most brilliantly and eloquently on traumatic stress. In fact, he was really the first person to describe the full syndrome (group of symptoms) of posttraumatic stress disorder.