Mental Health Units Ready To Treat Shell Shock

A new generation of post traumatic shock syndrome cases may have been bred by the destruction of the World Trade Center last week. Many of these "walking wounded" crossing the Queensboro Bridge were dazed by the horrifying sights they saw in a war zone resembling Vietnam.
Mental health professionals at area hospitals are providing one-on-one therapy to patients including paramedics, ambulance drivers and civilians caught in the fiery scene in the Manhattan financial district. The psychiatric units were mobilized by Jamaica Hospital, Flushing Hospital Medical Center and Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center.
"They came in crying, upset, bewildered and in shock after witnessing the carnage in Manhattan," said Anthony Maffia, vice president of psychiatry, a clinical social worker at Jamaica Hospital, of the patients streaming into their clinics. "We are seeing emergency personnel and survivors of this terrible tragedy."
Maffia and Dr. Seeth Vivek, chairman of the Psychiatry Dept., acted swiftly to set up walk-in mental health clinics at the three hospitals. They are open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
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Vivek said these survivors were being screened to determine if they would benefit from individual counseling or group therapy sessions. Special groups of emergency personnel were being formed to give those who had witnessed the chaotic scenes an opportunity to relate their experiences and receive counseling.
"Many of the emergency personnel we are treating saw the carnage and the collapse of the buildings," Vivek said. "Many of these individuals worked in Manhattan and live in Queens."
How long before such patients recover?
"Thats a hard question to answer," Vivek said. "Often post-traumatic stress syndrome patients continue to have symptoms for years."
Meanwhile, mental health professionals at North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital have launched a similar therapeutic program for children and adults suffering emotional trauma because of the World Trade Center disaster. Dr. Mark Russ, a psychiatrist said a mental health hotline has been established at (516) 470-8188.
"Well screen those seeking treatment and determine if they require therapy, bereavement groups or other forms of mental health assistance," Russ said. "We are hearing from companies and organizations whose personnel have been affected by the tragedy."
Russ said he has seen a number of reactions from sufferers, including nightmares, startling episodes and more serious cases that may require longer term therapy. He added that medications such as anti-depressants are available for those hit hard by the disaster.
In addition, Hillside Hospital, a mental health division of Long Island Jewish in New Hyde Park, also offers acute care service.
Russ advised families with children to turn off the television set to protect youngsters from the devastation around them.
"You can expect that some children will show symptoms such as regression, interrupted sleep and just plain worry about events they cannot understand," Russ said.
Affected children can find treatment at Schneider Childrens Hospital on the LIJH campus, according to Dr. Rona Novick, a clinical psychologist at the Hospital.
Over the weekend, a group of psychologists raised questions about the widespread intervention by therapists.
Dr. Gerald Rosen,a clinical psychologist in private practice in Seattle, who, along with other therapists issued a letter to colleagues, had this to say:
"The public should be very concerned about medicalizing what are human reactions to things."
He said symptoms some experts are publicly calling post-traumatic stress disorderlike startle reactions, intrusive images like the tower collapsing, fear of tall buildings, sleeping problems, irritability and intense sadnessare in fact normal responses to extreme fear and stress that will fade with time, for most people.

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