By Linda Nwoke, Special to CAW
This year’s 9/11 memorial marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most devastating incidents ever recorded in the history of the United States. An organized tripartite assault on Americans took place in three locations-New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC on the same day, claiming the lives of almost 3000 people in the country, with over 2700 persons lost, specifically in New York City.
Post-attack, it has continued to claim the lives of many who participated in the evacuation and clean-up, many of whom developed various health challenges. It is still re-lived in the minds of most Americans and anyone on American soil.
In less than a month to the day of the remembrance of the terrorist attack, thirteen young U.S servicemen and women serving our country in Afghanistan were killed by a suicide bomber during the evacuation in Kabul. The suicide bombing occurred in the same country where the terrorist network originated committed the heinous crime in 2001, a country that served as the training camps of the Al-Qaeda terrorists.
The deadly act of terrorism, albeit in a distant city, reminded the world and Americans especially, of the price paid for the freedom and relative peace experienced over the years from those who detest the country. From President Joe Biden to the family’s members of the fallen heroes and several people watched in heartbreak: as the bodies, including 5 Marines who were only 20 years old, and served in a war that started the same year they were born and transported to their families, having paid the ultimate price for their country.
Effects of Terrorism
Setting aside the tumultuous emotions that arise from such a tragedy, one begins to question the reason for such thoughts that result in the act of terrorism. Studies show that the central emotion to any terrorist attack is ‘hatred,’ an intense negative emotion borne from extremist reasoning that often results in destruction and sometimes death. Most terrorist attacks are deliberate acts to harm and destroy people, places, or objects.
It is a manufactured reasoned act to incite fear, uncertainty, and sometimes rebellion. The emotions of fear spread in ripples from the victims and survivors to others around. And in this time of technological advancement to people far from the incident through the media. Beyond the physical injuries and damages, the psychological suffering inflicted by terrorism is part of the consequences. Countries must develop intervention strategies to address the confrontation and reduce the impact of such traumatic experiences among the citizens, specifically by focusing on the ways to limit the adverse psychological effects of terrorism.
Over time, several experts have studied the effect of traumatic experiences on individuals, revealing that individuals respond differently to the impact of traumatic events. They explained that there are variances across psychological and physical reactions caused by the interaction between the events and factors like genetic composition, social circumstances, experiences, and expectations.
Kessler et al.,1995 explain that those exposed to a traumatic event show increased psychiatric disorders like acute stress disorder, substance use, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and generalized anxiety disorder. Such studies have extended into traumatic events related to terrorist attacks.
Since the 9/11 attack in the states, studies have expanded into the youths, necessitated because adults get caught up in their feelings and forget that some of their fears and reactions also affect children and young ones. Hence, the focus is on uncovering the effect of terrorism on adolescents. In other countries where terrorism prevails, stakeholders, including parents, teachers, and health care providers, have revealed an ongoing struggle to support adolescents in coping with the heightened fear and stress that accompanies ‘feeling unsafe and threatened.”
Coping with Stress and Anxiety Associated with Terrorist-based Traumatic Events
Despite efforts at various levels, when an unfortunate incident like terrorism occurs, specific steps and strategies must be considered to ameliorate the effect of the malady on the individual level. Professionals such as psychologists, counselors, and therapists have proven that evidence-based interventions can help people cope with traumatic experiences from such incidents.
One of the methods is the Psychological First Aid (PFA), an intervention employed by experts in managing post-disaster or terrorist attacks. It was initially designed to help families, parents, children, and adolescents cope with specific stressors. However, its use has now expanded to the treatment of traumatic events.
The approach operates on providing support to the individual by sharing information to help them understand the stress and how to cope. It works on the premise that most survivors and secondary victims (others affected by such events) will have a broad range of early reactions that can cut across spiritual, behavioral, physical, and psychological symptoms. Some of which will cause enough distress to interfere with the person’s ability to cope. The treatment helps individuals reduce the feelings of distress and acquire the ability to cope with the situation using various strategies, which improves their functionality over the short or long term. Professionals like mental health providers and disaster response workers administer the technique over days and weeks in various settings – face to face and online.
Another treatment method recognized by the World Health Organization is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which focuses on helping adults change their obstructive way of thinking and behavior patterns caused by traumatic stress. For children and adolescents, most treatment options take place in a family-based intervention involving the child’s caregivers and parents during their therapy.
The Road Ahead
As the years’ pass, several approaches are initiated to reduce terrorists’ chance at another attack. A comprehensive national security strategy has been created and implemented at several levels, involving the delicate act of balancing strict security measures against law-backed economic, social, and communities-driven policies.
The government at the federal level continues to manage countries with significant threats identified by the global terrorism index as Afghanistan and Iraq. They also work with bilateral and multilateral agencies.
At the state and community level, more educative programs and projects are initiated toward building tolerance in communities.
As a community with diverse backgrounds, cultures, and countries, we will try to defy every form of hatred between us. Sometimes it is overwhelming with outbursts expressed as physical and verbal attacks toward other people based on perceived differences in race, religious belief/affiliation, ethnic or skin color.
As we reflect on the past years’ lessons and continue to grieve with families that have lost family members due to terrorism, we celebrate their patriotism and bravery, which we will never forget. We must try to respect our differences as young and old, poor and rich, and whatever the classification might be, yet committed to promoting equity and inclusion expected of a great nation while working toward a future that is filled with less hate.