At St. Vincent's Hospital, the closest trauma center to the World Trade Center, the staff heard that planes had struck the buildings and prepared for a medical disaster. “We didn't know the cause of the crash immediately, but any fire in a high-rise building is bad news,” said psychiatrist Spencer Eth, M.D.
The collapse of the buildings left many dead but few injured. The anticipated medical emergency turned into a mental health disaster. “People came to the hospital in distress,” said Eth. “They were grief-stricken, anxious, panicked, seeking assurance.”
“Most people I know in lower Manhattan were emotionally affected—including me,” he said. “Most recovered, but many did not. They really needed help for a long time....The soldiers we see in the VA now are legacies of September 11.”
To read interviews with Eth and three other psychiatrists who were in New York on that day, see Psychiatric News at http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/content/46/16/1.1.full.
For in-depth discussions of disaster-related mental health issues, see the American Psychiatric Publishing book Disaster Psychiatry: Readiness, Evaluation, and Treatment at www.appi.org/SearchCenter/Pages/SearchDetail.aspx?ItemId=7217.