Toward Building A Stronger America: Noted Psychologist Faults Bush Administration For Keeping America “Shaky” Since Sept. 11; “There Is So Much More That Should Be Done.”
Los Angeles (Sept. 5, 2002) – Americans have grown stronger and wiser as a result of the terrorist attacks of almost a year ago, but the Bush Administration can do much more to help the country heal psychologically if it wanted to, states a leading authority.
According to author Dr. Harriet Braiker, nationally known psychologist and noted authority on stress, Americans on the whole have shown remarkable “surface resiliency” in carrying on with their daily lives in the short- and long-term aftermath of the September 11 attacks. But she voices concern about the levels of anxiety that lurk beneath the surface, and takes the Bush administration to task for actively contributing to that nervousness – “keeping us on a shaky footing for reasons known only to the White House” – and not taking obvious steps to alleviate it.
She refers to this uncertainty as part of the “September 11 Syndrome” – a term she coined to describe the nationwide anxiety epidemic that resulted from the aftermath of that terrible day, and of a nation still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“It’s no surprise that the terrorist alert warnings that the administration frequently issues increases people’s anxiety levels, and as the one year anniversary of the attacks rapidly approaches those levels will certainly spike,” said Dr. Braiker, a clinical and social psychologist in Los Angeles, who previously worked at The Rand Corporation. “But that fear could be greatly reduced if people knew what to do in the event of an attack, such as: where to go, whether to seek shelter or evacuate, how to take shelter, how to prepare a safe room at home, what medicines to carry, where to seek reliable public health information, the different signs of biological, chemical and radiological attacks, and so on.
“It is up to the administration to communicate with the public at large and disseminate that vital information, which people need to better be able to increase their personal sense of control and reduce their insecurity,” said Braiker. “As a nation we’re strong, but we could be stronger. It’s been nearly a year: what is the government waiting for?”
In researching her new book, The September 11 Syndrome: Anxious Days and Sleepless Nights, which was written to help individuals “get a grip” in these uncertain times, Dr. Braiker found one of the predominant causes of stress, anxiety and depression following September 11 was uncertainty and the lack of information about what to do in the event of another attack. As time passed and the threats escalated to nuclear, chemical and biological terrorism, the concern was amplified many fold.
The absence of planning information for Americans is contributing to anxiety, sleeplessness and overall stress, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. “Give the average person – not just local health and law enforcement authorities – the necessary information to deal with a threat, and people will feel more in control because they have a personal plan for themselves and their families,” she said. “Having a plan reduces anxiety.”
In The September 11 Syndrome, Braiker observes that one of the unanticipated benefits of the attack is America’s increased connection among family and friends, which she believes has made us stronger.
“But there is so much more that can and should be done to keep America strong,” Braiker noted. “Issuing warning upon warning without telling the public what to do in the event that a threat materializes only raises the public’s anxiety and sense of exposure. Communication and dissemination of vital planning information to an uncertain public would go a long way to counteract anxiety.”
Braiker – who considers the multi-colored warning levels of the Homeland Security Office as nothing more than “a rainbow of angst” – recalled the Civil Defense planning of a generation ago when people at least knew where to go for fallout shelters and what to do in the event of an attack.
In The September 11 Syndrome, she writes about how people can help themselves to better cope – and indeed even to thrive -- in these uncertain times. She offers specific tactics for how to gain control of the disturbing mental images and negative thoughts related to the attacks; how to attack and overcome specific fears and anxieties; how to counteract helplessness and the depression it causes. And, her book highlights how Americans, post-September 11, have even grown stronger and more stress resilient by creating personal comfort zones, strengthening connections with others, and discovering their personal courage. Braiker advises that talking openly with family and friends about specific fears or concerns is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety. “People should be encouraged to talk about their anxiety, not suppress it,” said Braiker.