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Anthrax Anxiety Could Cause Post Traumatic Stress

October 18, 2001
By: Nicholas Rummell
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The national fear over mail-order anthrax and the ongoing war against terrorism could lead to post traumatic stress syndrome, according to state health officials.

The recent media blitz on bioterrorism, criticized as excessive by media critics, could also be adding to the rapidly increasing depression, stress, and anxiety in Missourians.

Sue Bergeson, deputy director of the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association, said that stress is to be expected during a period of heightened security, but the media coverage of bioterrorism both helps and hurts.

"It is a very delicate balance. For some people, it will help clarify the situation. For others, it will exacerbate their fear," Bergeson said.

According to Bergeson, 40 percent of people who experience traumatic stress will also experience depression.

"Any type of retaliation will see a definite increase in stress," said Bergeson, who stated that people are more prepared for terrorist activities now than on Sept. 11.

In a Pew Research Center (PRC) poll conducted during the first week of October, 42 percent of people report they still feel depressed about the Sept. 11 attacks.

But, another PRC poll on Oct. 15 reported that depression and anxiety have not significantly increased nationally since the outbreak of anthrax reports, and it has remained high since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

While public fear and anxiety remain high, many Missourians are dealing with it in positive ways.

Dr. Joseph Parks, medical director for the state's Mental Health Department, said most people are dealing with stress constructively by giving blood and participating in community activities.

"Stress is a challenge that we need to transcend," he said.

Recently appointed Missouri adviser on Homeland Security Tim Daniel said that the American people are rightfully concerned about anthrax, and stated that he is still concerned about bioterrorist threats to Missouri.

However, Daniel went on to say that Missouri was in better shape than most states in protecting its citizens because of planning that Missouri undertook prior to Sept. 11 in dealing with disasters.

There are no concrete policies on bioterrorism now.