American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting
American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting
June 04, 2019
2 min read

Childhood exposure to 9/11 linked to future physical, psychiatric disorders

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SAN FRANCISCO —Individuals who were directly exposed as children to 9/11 showed a higher rate of subsequent physical disorders, psychiatric disorders and physical-psychiatric comorbidities than those who were not, according to a presentation at APA annual meeting.

Researchers longitudinally examined more than 1,000 people who were directly exposed to the 9/11 terror attack as children and a matched control group (n = 500) in the ongoing Stress and Well Being Study.

This study represented “the largest and longest longitudinal field study” featuring face-to-face assessments, Lawrence Amsel, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry from Columbia University and part of the Global Psychiatry Epidemiology Group, said during a press briefing. The investigators conducted in-home assessments of physical health and psychiatric conditions assessed with the NIMH Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children.

Amsel and colleagues found that 14 years after 9/11, participants who were directly exposed to the disaster as children exhibited higher rates of psychiatric disorders, physical disorders and physical-psychiatric comorbidities when compared to the control group.

These directly-exposed individuals were more likely to have had a psychiatric disorder in the past year and were more likely to have any lifetime physical health condition than nonexposed individuals, according to the results. Furthermore, the exposed group four times more likely to have physical-psychiatric comorbidity than the unexposed group (14% vs. 4%).

The researchers did not find elevated symptoms of PTSD in the sample, according to Amsel.

“We live in a context of an increasing number of mass disasters and a greater awareness of individual adversities that children go through,” he said in the presentation. “This study is interesting to us because it was a single incident severe mass trauma—not ongoing abuse. This was a single event, and nevertheless, it had effects from decades.”

In addition, Amsel added that all children, not just those who were exposed to 9/11, should be assessed for trauma.

“All kids coming into the medical setting should be evaluated for whether or not they have had a trauma,” he said. “That is exposure to large mass trauma and also trauma in the house abuse, neglect, those kinds of things. It’s a medical problem, it’s not a social problem.” – by Savannah Demko


Amsel L, et al. The broad impact of childhood trauma: Physical-psychiatric comorbidity in a cohort of individuals exposed to 9/11 in childhood. Presented at: APA Annual Meeting; May 18-22, 2019; San Francisco.

Disclosures: Healio Psychiatry was unable to confirm any relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.