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Preparing For Sept. 11 Memories And Reactions
Adults still suffering mental anguish from the Sept. 11 attacks should reach out to loved ones this week, but young children should avoid watching the constant replays of the falling towers, psychiatrists said Monday.
With the one-year anniversary Wednesday, state mental health officials are preparing to handle calls about psychological reactions including sleeplessness, anger and difficulty handling day-to-day activities. Several state agencies are working together to handle a possible influx of calls this week, and officials said citizens of varying age groups should be counseled differently.
"I've been telling parents to shut off your televisions," said Dr. Steve Berkowitz, a child psychiatrist at Yale University's Child Study Center in New Haven. "We all know what happened. We've all seen it. We don't need to repeat it over and over again."
Psychiatrists advise parents to consider their children's age and level of development before allowing them to watch television programs about 9/11, and before family discussions about the tragedy.
Berkowitz, who also serves as the medical director at the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence, said parents should instead have a thoughtful discussion with younger children and talk about their feelings.
Berkowitz and other officials gathered Monday in Gov. John G. Rowland's office to talk about the state's response on the anniversary. They said the quickest way for anyone to get assistance is by calling Infoline at the 211 telephone number. The caller will be referred to the proper professional regarding issues of sadness, anger, anxiety, excess alcohol consumption and other stress reactions.
Without the proper perspective, some children have misunderstood the tragedy. Because the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in New York City was played so frequently on television, some children believed that dozens of buildings had collapsed in the attacks, officials said.
The trauma is so extensive for some people that the repercussions could continue for years, said Julian Ford, an associate psychiatry professor at the UConn Health Center.
Rowland said he learned about the effects of trauma by speaking with Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who has worked extensively with the families of victims of the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh.
Keating "told me something that I will never forget," Rowland said Monday. "They were treating more people three years after the bombing than immediately after the bombing."
Rowland said the anniversary could be worse for some people because of other problems facing the nation, including corporate scandals and the collapse of some 401(k) plans.
The images viewers can expect to see on television Wednesday could be particularly frightening to children, child psychiatry experts say.
"The visual material is the most likely to remain in memory - and therefore the most likely to come back and be traumatizing," said Dr. Lisa Namerow, a child psychiatrist affiliated with the Institute of Living in Hartford.
Parents are advised to closely monitor their children's television-watching Wednesday, and to be available to answer questions. Staff writer Andrew Julien contributed to this story.