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As 9/11 anniversary approaches, mental health woes abound

Consumer Reports News: September 08, 2011 08:13 PM

About half of U.S. adults will experience a mental-health problem at some point in their lives, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, highlighting the importance of preventing, detecting, and treating the problem. The findings are timely given the upcoming tenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the U.S. and the heightened anxiety the anniversary brings for many.

Studies suggest that mental-health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), increased in friends and relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks, as well as those who helped rescue and recovery efforts and even people who repeatedly viewed the events on TV or other media. According to our recent report, PTSD affects one in four people that have experienced a traumatic event. Signs of PTSD include reliving the experience in your thoughts and nightmares, feeling edgy and jumpy, becoming withdrawn, and having trouble sleeping.

According to Andrew Schwartz, Ph.D., Consumer Reports survey research associate and licensed clinical psychologist,

One of the more troubling aspects of PTSD is that more and more things associated with an event such as 9/11, can become triggers for re-experiencing the event and the extremely unpleasant symptoms of PTSD, if an individual does not receive proper treatment from a professional. Things as simple as odors, dust, firemen, sirens, alarms, or police cars could trigger PTSD symptoms just as easily as a more obvious trigger such as a low flying airplane.

The CDC report marks the first agency-wide compilation of data from the various systems and surveys the agency uses to measure mental illness around the country. Among the findings:

  • Mental-health disorders accounted for about 1 in 20 ambulatory visits to hospitals from 2007 to 2008. The most common diagnoses were anxiety disorders, depression, and psychosis.
  • Depression doesn’t affect all parts of the country equally. The Southeastern states—including Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia—generally have the highest rates of depression, serious psychological distress, and average number of “mentally unhealthy days.” North Dakota and Utah had the lowest rates of depression (4.3 percent) and serious psychological distress (1.9 percent), respectively.
  • Anxiety disorders are nearly as prevalent as depression. One large epidemiologic survey found that 16.1 percent of people had received a diagnosis of depression at some point in the past, while 12.3 percent had previously been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. The CDC report notes that future surveillance efforts should pay more attention to anxiety disorders, given their prevalence and the fact that they’re currently not included in many mental-health surveys, which have historically focused mostly on depression.

Bottom line: If think you might be suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or another mental problem, don’t go it alone—talk to your doctor about getting screened. Screening can help both in the prevention and treatment of mental illnesses, and is especially important because mental disorders often co-occur with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. In those cases, successfully treating the mental illness can help reduce the effects of the chronic disease. “PTSD can be one of the more debilitating mental health problems a person can experience, especially if left unaddressed," says Schwartz. "Fortunately, if a person suffering with PTSD is properly treated by a professional, the troubling symptoms can often be reduced to a manageable level."

Read our Best Buy Drugs reports on the most effective and economical treatments for depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, as well as our take on a drug for post-traumatic stress disorder. Get advice for managing stress, which contributes to both depression and anxiety.

Mental Illness Surveillance Among Adults in the United States
[Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
What We Know About the Health Affects of 9/11

Jamie Hirsh

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