How Major Traumatic Events Can Impact Your Long-Term Health

The 9/11 terror attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and injured thousands of others. The coordinated assault left tens of thousands of grieving parents, children, spouses, siblings, cousins and loved ones.

© (Getty Images) A woman sitting on a sofa, feeling depressed, looking for a job. Reading bad news.

The attack – and other high-profile, traumatic events, like the COVID-19 pandemic – also affected the long-term health of countless others who watched the assaults or their aftermath on television, listened to radio accounts and read news reports, according to mental health clinicians. Many of these people likely relived the trauma of that shocking day during recent ceremonies commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the attacks.

“You don’t have to be directly affected, such as losing a loved one, to experience long-term health effects (associated with a national traumatic event),” says Kai-Rai M. Prewitt, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Adult Behavioral Health. “We know that people who are witness to tragedy or constantly exposed to hearing about and/or responding to traumatic situations can be impacted. Because of the internet and the media we have access to others’ tragedies. When someone experiences trauma or witnesses it, there’s a chance of being impacted mentally, physically and spiritually.”

Reactions to Trauma

It’s normal for people to feel emotional distress after incidents of mass violence, such as shootings with multiple victims and terrorism, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In the wake of such incidents, people may exhibit these signs of distress:

  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters.
  • Worrying a lot of the time; feeling guilty but not sure why.
  • Feeling like you have to stay busy.
  • Excessive smoking, drinking or using drugs, including prescription medication.

The last two years in particular have exposed tens of millions of people to a series of nationally publicized traumatic events that can lead to long-term health issues, says David Fingerhut, director of mental health services at Everside Health, which provides direct primary care for employer groups, including unions, municipalities and public school systems. Fingerhut’s based in Indianapolis, Everside has more than 300 clinics in 33 states.

“The (collective) American psyche is really in a vulnerable state right now,” Fingerhut says.

Fingerhut recited some of the major traumatic events of the past two years:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Hurricane Ida.
  • Catastrophic wildfires in the western part of the U.S.
  • Increased concerns about climate change, in light of severe weather like Hurricane Ida and the massive wildfires in the western part of the country.
  • Domestic political violence, such as the January 6 assault on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
  • Mass shootings, like the assault in March 2021 in Boulder, Colorado, in which a gunman killed 10 people in a supermarket.

Reactions to major traumatic events vary widely, Fingerhut says. “Some people can shrug it off and there’s no effect.” Other people, though, will react by isolating from their social groups and using alcohol or other substances to cope with the tragedy. “A lot of times, you see maladaptive behaviors.”

Some people experiencing trauma fall into maladaptive behaviors as coping strategies. Maladaptive behaviors can include:

  • Misusing alcohol, drugs or tobacco.
  • Gambling.
  • Overeating.
  • Sleeping too much.
  • Binge-watching TV shows.
  • Spending an inordinate of time on social media or playing video games.

Maladaptive behaviors often are used to avoiding thinking about or emotionally dealing with trauma. These avoidant strategies can also appear to be “positive” such as immersing oneself in professional work, but are done with the end goal of avoiding thinking about or feeling about the trauma.

Long-Term Effects of Trauma

In the short term, trauma associated with such events can lead to conditions such as gastrointestinal distress, headaches and insomnia. Such trauma can also lead to spikes of cortisol, which is widely known as the body’s primary stress hormone. Cortisol is important in regulating the immune, digestive and reproductive systems and growth.

Cortisol spikes make the body more susceptible to chronic conditions, Fingerhut says.

These chronic conditions may include:

  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Concentration and memory problems.
  • Depression.
  • Hypertension.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Stroke.
  • Weight gain.

In the wake of mass shootings, most survivors are resilient, according to the American Psychological Association. However, some – particularly individuals who believed their lives or those of their loved ones were in danger or who lack adequate social support – experience ongoing mental health problems.

These problems can include:

Research suggests that stress and trauma associated with 9/11 can affect not just the health of people who witnessed it, but their income.

For example, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2019 assessed the attack’s impact on employment among people who lived and worked near the World Trade Center at the time. Researchers studied the association between 9/11-related health conditions on early retirement and post-retirement income loss on 6,377 residents who took completed health surveys.

“We found that 9/11-related health conditions were significantly associated with the likelihood of early retirement,” researchers wrote. “Residents and/or area workers with more physical health conditions, especially when co-morbid with post-traumatic stress disorder were more likely to retire before age 60 than those with no conditions.”

Study participants who suffered from PTSD or PTSD with another comorbid health issue “increased the odds of reporting substantial post-retirement income loss,” the study says. “Having PTSD alone was not associated with early retirement; however, PTSD was the driving factor out of all 9/11-related health conditions that was linked to substantial income loss post-retirement.”

The New York City Health Department created the World Trade Center Health Registry in November 2001 to track the health of people who lived, worked and went to school near the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks. Initially, officials estimated 400,000 people were eligible to voluntarily register for the initiative.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

PTSD symptoms are the most common health effect of the 9/11 attacks, according to the registry’s website. As many as 20% of adults who were “directly exposed to the disaster or injured in the attack had PTSD symptoms 5 to 6 years after the attack,” according to the registry. That’s four times the rate in the general population.

Among those people, risk factors for PTSD include:

  • Injury.
  • Witnessing horror.
  • Event-related job loss.
  • Having little social support.
  • Knowing someone who was killed in the attack.

Ten years after the attack, 15% of registry enrollees had PTSD symptoms. “PTSD was more likely to persist or get worse in people who were unable to get mental health treatment, had high 9/11-related exposure, were unemployed, or had little social support,” according to the registry.

PTSD, in turn, is associated with early death, research published in 2019 in JAMA Network Open suggests. The study suggests that PTSD related to 9/11 is associated with a higher mortality risk for both responders and civilians.

Unless managed, the immense chronic stress experienced over 9/11, the pandemic or any other major trauma – extended or acute – will be experienced by the mind and processed into the brain in a toxic way, says Caroline Leaf, a Dallas-based communication pathologist and cognitive and clinical neuroscientist.

“Trauma, especially the more severe and extended it is, can cause a ‘tsunami’ type reaction in the brain and body, upsetting our mental energy and health,” Leaf says. “This, in turn, can affect cognition in different ways, from losing perspective to mental exhaustion and brain fog. If left unmanaged, trauma like this can progress to varying levels of ill-health and cognitive issues.”

What to Do When a Traumatic Event Occurs

While there’s nothing anyone can do about major traumatic events, individuals can take certain steps to protect your health in the short- and long-term when experiencing direct or vicarious trauma, says Moe Gelbart, director of behavioral health at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Torrance, California.

When a major traumatic event occurs, Gelbart recommends taking these steps:

  • Acknowledge your feelings, don’t minimize, trivialize or dismiss them.
  • Find a trusted person to share your feelings with. This could be a relative, friend or mental health professional.
  • Avoid numbing your responses with alcohol or other substances.
  • Don’t catastrophize about the future. Stay rooted in the moment, where solutions lie.
  • Don’t dive into avoidant activity, such as immersing yourself in work, overeating or binge eating, or seeking out inappropriate relationships.
  • Control the things you can and let go what’s out of your control.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep, eat properly and try to exercise.

Copyright 2021 U.S. News & World Report

Internet Explorer Channel Network
News Related


Whyte-Wallin officially off, Cameron-McGee now headlines Oct. 30 show

Matchroom has officially confirmed that, as revealed this morning, next week’s heavyweight clash between Dillian Whyte and Otto Wallin is off after the former suffered a shoulder injury in training ... Read more »

How green politics are changing Europe

An ocean of conservative blue blankets the electoral map in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria. And yet the conservative vote actually fell across Germany in last month’s federal vote, while ... Read more »

Man Utd lean into chaos to mask Solskjaer blunder

That was fun, but probably shouldn’t have been. Silly season will remain as long as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United. © PA Images Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates Man United ... Read more »

Stephon Gilmore eases back into practice and will play “whenever he's ready”

The Panthers traded for veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore two weeks ago. He practiced with his new team for the first time Wednesday. © Provided by NBC Sports The Panthers are ... Read more »

Green Bay Packers signing OLB Whitney Mercilus

© Provided by Touchdown Wire MORE: Browns will start QB Case Keenum vs. Broncos on ‘Thursday Night Football’ RB Nick Chubb ruled out for Thursday Night Football Report: Cowboys safety ... Read more »

An amateur diver found a 3-foot sword off the Israeli coast - and filmed his discovery. It dates back to the Crusades.

© Ronen Zvulun/Reuters A sword that likely belonged to a Crusader lays on the beach in Caesarea, Israel on October 16, 2021. Ronen Zvulun/Reuters A scuba diver found a 900-year-old ... Read more »

Biden urges warring Democrats to come together to pass his agenda

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo Joe Biden showed his frustration with warring Democrats delaying the passage of his Congressional agenda on Wednesday, urging the moderate and progressive wings ... Read more »

New Caledonia separatists call for referendum boycott

Separatist leaders in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia called Thursday for a boycott of a December independence referendum, urging the government to focus on the Covid crisis. © ... Read more »

‘Everyone should be very worried': Dems seek wake-up call as Virginia goes to the wire

A creeping sense of worry among Democrats about the Virginia governor’s race spilled into the open on Wednesday, after the release of a new Monmouth University poll showing former Democratic ... Read more »

Pokemon Go Giratina raid guide: Best counters, weaknesses and moves

Altered Forme Giratina is leaving Pokemon Go  again in only a couple of days. The legendary ghost/dragon Pokemon is appearing as a five-star raid boss until Oct. 22, and there’s a ... Read more »

Biden pitches unfinished economic agenda in personal hometown remarks

President Joe Biden made a pitch for his unfinished economic agenda as negotiations heat up in Congress, broadly touting its provisions as Democrats pare back the sweeping legislation to expand ... Read more »

A dam good idea — making a lasting difference by investing in the infrastructure of our dams

© istock A dam good idea — making a lasting difference by investing in the infrastructure of our dams In New Hampshire and across our country, dams provide essential services, ... Read more »

Why Democrats are trying to fit every wish into a shrinking bill

Democrats, it seems, are looking to pare down their budget bill by going the route favored by progressives. While they’re weighing some big cuts to the $3.5 trillion package, the ... Read more »

PlayStations and footie tickets bought for NHS patients using taxpayer cash

THOUSANDS of pounds of taxpayers’ cash is being spent on luxuries such as National Trust passes, footie tickets and PlayStations for NHS patients. Public money has also gone on holidays, ... Read more »

Court Finds Murder Suspect Incompetent to Face Charges for Dismembering Father Who Threatened to Cut Off ‘Constant Flow of Money'

© Provided by Law & Crime Scott Sterffy Scott Sterffy The brutal murder case against a Michigan man recently hit a speed bump. Scott Sterffy, 56, who has an alleged ... Read more »

Fact check: Norway's high vaccination rate prompted lifting of last COVID-19 restrictions

The claim: Norwegian Directorate of Health said reopening society did not lead to an increase in COVID-19 infections Since celebrating the removal of their last remaining pandemic restrictions on Sept. 25, Norwegians have ... Read more »

Blazers vs. Kings odds, line: 2021 NBA picks, Oct. 20 predictions from proven computer model

The Sacramento Kings have been in a perpetual state of NBA obscurity since last making the playoffs in the 2005-06 season. They try to change their fortunes on Wednesday night ... Read more »

Warnock pushes Medicaid expansion as equity issue amid Dem healthcare battle

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) implored his colleagues to include legislation expanding Medicaid as his party works quickly to craft its sweeping social benefit and climate spending plan, branding the measure ... Read more »

Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks live stream, TV channel, time, odds, how to watch the NBA

The Boston Celtics will meet the New York Knicks in NBA action on Wednesday night from Madison Square Garden. © Provided by For The Win The Celtics will open the ... Read more »

COVID-19 and kids: Experts hopeful vaccinations in children 5-11 'will help curb' cases following worst month for infections

The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a report on COVID-19 in children, and the findings show just how much kids have been affected by the global pandemic. © Provided ... Read more »

Famous Atlanta area mixologist dies after botched robbery and toss from moving car

Police in Georgia have arrested a man for allegedly killing a well-known Atlanta mixologist. On Oct. 11, a witness called 911 to report that a person was tossed from a ... Read more »

Virginia State Police investigating death threat against McAuliffe

The Virginia State Police confirmed on Wednesday they are investigating a death threat made Tuesday against gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). © Greg Nash Virginia Democratic gubernatorial ... Read more »

No US injuries in attack on remote American base in Syria

There were no U.S. military injuries or deaths resulting from a coordinated attack Wednesday on a small remote U.S. military base at al Tanf, Syria, according to two U.S. officials. ... Read more »

Aari McDonald leaves European team

Former Arizona point guard Aari McDonald went directly from her senior campaign with the Wildcats to the WNBA. After a challenging rookie season with the Atlanta Dream, she immediately headed ... Read more »

Seahawks claim QB Jacob Eason off waivers amid Cam Newton rumors

NFL insider Josina Anderson reported Monday that the Seattle Seahawks were not “imminently pursuing” free-agent quarterback and 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player Cam Newton with starter Russell Wilson sidelined for ... Read more »

Fantasy Football Week 7 Start 'Em & Sit 'Em: Matt Ryan gets prime shot to step up as streamer against Dolphins

Fantasy managers are likely going to have a tough time with their rosters this week with six teams on a bye. It’s hard to replace stars from the Bills, Cowboys, ... Read more »

Efforts to restore Plaza Theatre back on track after $5 million donation

Following a period of inactivity due to the pandemic, efforts to restore the Plaza Theatre are back on track.  The campaign “Help Save The Plaza Theatre,” led by former councilmember ... Read more »

Rockne News: From the ranch to the stage, Def Leggend lead singer hits the right tone

We all seek to have harmony and fulfillment in life, and Wes Willenberg has definitely struck a unique balance between his work and artistic passions.  © Contributed Def Leggend will ... Read more »

Grammy-nominated DJ Steve Aoki set to perform at San Antonio night club

© Provided by WOAI San Antonio SAN ANTONIO — Popular DJ and music producer Steve Aoki is coming to San Antonio. The Grammy-nominated artist, with over 16 million listeners on ... Read more »

The Best Hoka Running Shoes

Founded in 2009 by French trail runners Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, Hoka began just as the minimalist shoe movement was reaching its peak. In spite (or because) of that ... Read more »

Alessandra Ambrosio Does Athleisure Neutrals in Gray Sports Bra & White Biker Shorts With Matching Sneakers

© BG004/ / MEGA Alessandra-ambrosio-2 Alessandra Ambrosio made simple neutral colors look chic. The supermodel was out and about on Tuesday running errands in Los Angeles. She looked gym-ready in ... Read more »

RHONY's Dorinda Medley's Favorite Halloween Decor Is All Available on Amazon

Real Housewives of New York City star Dorinda Medley definitely knows a thing or two about home decor—just take one look at her Stanford White-designed Berkshires estate, Blue Stone Manor, ... Read more »

Obituary: Peggy Michelle Smyrnes-Williams | Helped others as lawyer, volunteer and fundraiser

If there was an event for a good cause in Pittsburgh, Peggy Smyrnes-Williams probably supported it. Chances are, she even organized it. “Peggy never was in the background. She was ... Read more »

Don Toliver's ‘Life of a Don' Launches at No. 2 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart

Don Toliver Don Toliver collects his highest-charting effort on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart as Life of a Don debuts at No. 2 on the list dated Oct. 23. The ... Read more »

Gerard Way Says My Chemical Romance Almost Left ‘Welcome to the Black Parade' Off Third Album

Gerard Way My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way is reflecting on the 15th anniversary of the band’s third album, The Black Parade. In an interview with Travis Mills on Apple Music ... Read more »

Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical, review: Arinzé Kene mesmerises in an exhilarating tribute to a legend

In a blaze of bright colour, supernova energy, sweet melodies and throbbing beats, this hotly anticipated Bob Marley musical biodrama finally arrives. Directed by Clint Dyer, with a thrillingly charismatic ... Read more »

Hometown Hero | Jack Harlow tour a huge stage for local venues, artists

Louisville venues and artists are reaping the benefits of Jack Harlow’s homecoming tour.  The artist drew big attention when he announced five performances in the city in December. The Grammy-nominated ... Read more »

George Strait Tribute Concert set for Saturday

© Randy Metcalf Canoa Ranch is hosting a George Strait tribute concert. TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) – Historic Canoa Ranch will host an outdoor George Strait Tribute Concert on ... Read more »

FDA authorizes booster doses of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, says mix and match OK

The US Food and Drug Administration authorized booster doses of both Covid-19 vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson Wednesday and also said any of the three authorized vaccines ... Read more »

Parkland shooter pleads guilty, says 'it brings me nightmares'

Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty Wednesday to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for killing 17 and injuring 17 others in the Parkland, Florida, school ... Read more »