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UC Irvine Study: 9-11 Attacks Made Us More Stressed, Sicker

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IRVINE (CBS) — UC Irvine researchers say the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks made us a sicker nation.

The researchers contend that in the first three years following the attacks, reports of doctor-diagnosed illness jumped 18 percent. People with pre- existing conditions were more prone to become sick, but even the healthy saw an increase in ailments, the study showed.

Alison Holman, a UCI assistant professor of nursing science and a health psychologist, co-authored the study with Roxane Cohen Silver, a UCI professor of psychology and social behavior.

The study explored the effects of “collective traumas” on people such as natural disasters, presidential assassinations and terrorist attacks. Not only did the attacks affect our views of the world and how we travel, they were responsible for stressing people out, whether they lived near the Twin Towers or not.

“We cannot underestimate the impact of collective stress on health,” Holman said. “People who work in health professions need to recognize symptoms related to stress and need to consider the potential effect of indirect exposure to extreme stress.”

The researchers studied nearly 2,000 adults who filled out online surveys following the attacks. Sixty-three of the respondents had viewed live television coverage of the terrorist attacks, and 4.5 percent said they had been directly affected.

“Those who watched the attacks on TV — as opposed to those who learned about them only after they happened — experienced a 28 percent rise in physical ailments over the following three years,” Holman said.

“Large-scale collective traumas such as 9/11 often set in motion a series of events, such as personal loss, economic hardship and fears about the future,” Holman said. “Under these circumstances, stress can take its toll in the form of illness, even among people who were nowhere near the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11.”

The study was published online in the Social Science and Medicine Journal.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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