Adolescent behavior and PTSD 6-7 years after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001

Disaster Health. 2015 Feb 3;2(3-4):121-129. doi: 10.1080/21665044.2015.1010931. eCollection Jul-Dec 2014.

Abstract

Behavioral problems and psychopathologies were reported in children exposed to the World Trade Center (WTC) attacks in New York City within 2-3 y post-disaster. Little is known of subsequent 9/11 related behavioral and emotional problems. We assessed risk factors for behavioral difficulties and probable posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 489 adolescent enrollees ages 11-18 y of age in the World Trade Center Health Registry cohort using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and DISC Predictive Scales (DPS), respectively, as reported by the adolescents. Associations between parental PTSD and adolescent PTSD and behavioral problems were studied in a subset of 166 adolescent-parent pairs in which the parent was also a Registry enrollee. Nearly one-fifth (17.4%) of the adolescents, all of whom were 5-12 y old at the time of the attacks, scored in the abnormal (5.7%) or borderline (11.7%) range of total SDQ. Problems were more frequent in minority, low-income, and single-parent adolescents. Abnormal and borderline SDQ scores were significantly associated with direct WTC exposures and with WTC-related injury or death of a family member. Adolescent PTSD was significantly associated with WTC exposure and with fear of one's own injury or death, and with PTSD in the parent (OR = 5.6; 95% CI 1.1-28.4). This adolescent population should be monitored for persistence or worsening of these problems. Co-occurrence of parent and child mental health symptoms following a disaster may have implications for healthcare practitioners and for disaster response planners.

Keywords: 9/11; PTSD; World Trade Center; adolescents; behavior; disaster; follow-up.