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20 Years After 9/11, First Responders, Survivors, Families Still Coping With Impacts On Mental Health

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By: Michael George, CBS Correspondent

Twenty years after the September 11th terror attacks, tens of thousands of first responders, survivors, and their families are still coping with lasting impacts on their mental health. Doctors say they continue to see new patients every week seeking help.

Stephen Hess was working as an FDNY EMS tech on September 11th. He raced to lower Manhattan with tens of thousands of first responders. “I was there the day of, but then I spent more time at the landfill on Staten Island. I had a cough almost right away,” he says. The following years, he suffered several devastating health issues, breathing problems, advanced stage lupus, multiple back surgeries, and mental health problems. “It took me five years to come to therapy. It was working, but I had long periods of wishing I never woke up in the morning, and then I actually contemplated suicide because between the pain from the lupus, the breathing,” he says.

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New patients who have never been treated are still coming in every week, according to Dr. Sandra Lowe, medical director of the World Trade Center Mental Health program at Mount Sinai in New York. She says, “Most of them have post-traumatic stress disorder. But we also see individuals who have major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders.” Dr. Lowe says 9/11 anniversary reactions are also common. “We started to hear about people having an exacerbation of their symptoms, like more nightmares, or feeling more on edge, ” she says.

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“The middle of August I start getting the anxiety and the stress,” Hess says. “And even this morning, I was like contemplating canceling this and then I thought, you know, if this can help one other person.” Hess credits his treatment at the Sinai program as well as his family for their tremendous support. He hopes others reach out for help if they need it.

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23,000 of the more than 80,000 first responders are currently being seen at Mount Sinai’s program for their physical and mental health.

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