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The emotional toll of 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic

Here's why health experts say Americans may be dealing with significant trauma.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — The 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks are days away and as the United States continues to struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic, the events offer a sobering look at both what has changed, and what hasn’t for the psyche of the American people.

Dr. Nancy Mimm, a population health expert at Harrisburg University, says for many, the similar anxiety people felt then, may be there now.

“It’s constant stress and turmoil; every soul has been touched by the pandemic, but for 9/11, we were also all impacted and affected—intimately for those who lost their lives and the first responders and their families," she said. 

Much of the emotional stress stems from fears of what happened previously, including a lost sense of safety.

“We felt like those who were supposed to be protecting us and preventing us from harm let us down," she explained. "We had war on U.S. soil, which no one expected; it’s the same thing with the pandemic. COVID-19 affected our public health officials who were supposed to prevent illness. It’s the same type of trauma reaction." 

Pennsylvania resident, who asked to be identified as King, said for him, both 9/11 and COVID-19 had significant emotional impacts.

"I was in school when it happened," he said. "I was in New York, I'm from New York and it hurt." 

He said when he takes stock of where the country, and his own mental health, are now: “I think COVID-19 did us different than 9/11 because with COVID, you couldn’t be around other people.” 

For those who do find themselves reflecting or struggling with emotions they may not have expected, Dr. Mimm says to "get help, talk to mental health providers, use employee assistance providers, use the free hotlines. We cannot hold this inside; we have to focus on being well and focus on having a well community."

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