Understanding the Psychosocial Impact of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks: a Qualitative Analysis of Focus Groups




Barney, Carissa Joy

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Much of the 9/11 mental health research to date has been focused on PTSD and posttraumatic stress symptoms. To better understand the broader experience of individuals following a disaster, exploratory focus groups were conducted with individuals from directly-exposed agencies and not directly-exposed agencies and Spanish- and Mandarin-speaking individuals being served by not directly-exposed agencies. Twenty-one focus groups with a total of 140 participants were conducted one to two years after 9/11. Transcribed focus group passages were coded into themes using qualitative analysis software. The five areas of concern identified in this study include the following themes: Disaster Experience, Emotional Sequelae, Workplace Issues, Coping, and Issues of Public Concern. The theme with the highest absolute number of passages for individuals from directly-exposed agencies was Emotional Sequelae. Issues of Public Concern was the theme with the highest absolute number of passages for individuals from not directly-exposed agencies, a Spanish-speaking focus group, and a Mandarin-speaking focus group. Most importantly, qualitative analysis of the content of discussion provided significant information about what was of greatest concern among directly-exposed and not directly-exposed focus groups and Spanish- and Mandarin-speaking focus groups following the 9/11 attacks. The variety of concerns discussed by participants across all groups highlighted both the unexplored and underexplored areas that may warrant future investigation as potential opportunities for development of post-disaster intervention. These concerns are much broader than simply PTSD or posttraumatic stress symptoms, which provides a different focus from that of most of the existing 9/11 mental health literature.

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