Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency

Mental Health Press Release

September 11, 2001


We are all shocked and saddened by the terrible events that happened today in New York City, Pennsylvania, and our nation’s Capitol.  Californians are personally touched by the tragedy because of the loss of lives aboard the airliners headed to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and because many people in California have loved ones on the East Coast who they are concerned about.


The Santa Cruz chapter of the American Red Cross Mental Health Team and Santa Cruz County Mental Health offer the following information and suggestions for coping with this very difficult and tragic situation.


Today’s events have evoked strong and deep reactions in both adults and children.  Fear and anger are among the most common emotions.  It is important for people to realize that their reactions are normal in these very abnormal and tragic circumstances, and to know that there are things people can do to cope and to help each other through these difficult times.


Common reactions include shock, disbelief, disorientation, fear, worry about safety, concern about loved ones, and grief.  After the initial shock wears off, people may have mood swings, crying, jumpiness, irritability, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, trouble concentrating, and difficulty sleeping.  One of the most common reactions in a human-caused disaster of this type is intense anger.


Children are affected by what they see and hear on television, and by how their parents react.  Common reactions in children include asking questions about what happened and why, fear for safety, distractibility, not wanting to be separated from family, regression to behaviors from a younger age, fear of sleeping alone, headaches and stomachaches, and a decline in school performance.


The following are some suggestions for dealing with the psychological and emotional impact of these terrorist events:


  • Try to maintain a normal routine.  Unless public safety officials have issued specific warnings or closed specific buildings, continue in your normal daily activities.  Remember that the goal of terrorism is to make you fearful.  Rather than being intimidated, follow the advice of professional public safety officials.

  • Follow your usual routine of physical activity and exercise.  Eat well and try to get rest, even if your sleep is not as restful as usual.

  • Avoid self-medication such as alcohol, caffeine, or other drugs.

  • Draw on known sources of comfort that have sustained you and helped you in the past.

  • Share your concerns and worries by talking with a friend, family member, or clergy.  Reach out to each other while taking care of yourself.

You can assist your children with some of the following suggestions:

  • Spend more time with them and be understanding of possible temporary setbacks in their maturity.

  • Talk with them about what has happened and do your best to answer their questions.  No one can totally answer the question of  “why” this has happened or why people do “bad” things.  Help them to be aware of the positive response of people to the disaster –of the people all over the world who are responding to the crisis in a helpful way.

  • Reassure your children that you love them, that you understand their feelings and concerns, and that you are there for them.  Physical affection is comforting, especially to young children.

  • Try to limit the amount of television coverage both you and your children watch.  We know clearly from past disasters that media images can traumatize people, especially children.  Encourage them to talk with you about their thoughts and feelings about what they have seen.  Consider having them write down, draw pictures, or for older children, write in their journal some of their feelings.

  • While some flexibility may be needed, try to keep a regular schedule of activities such as eating, playing, studying, and going to bed to help restore a sense of security and normalcy. Emotions and problems with concentrating may interfere with studying for awhile.

  • Talk to your children’s teachers, day-care providers, and babysitters about your child’s response to the event and about what the school or setting is doing to assist children.

  • Prolonged and extreme withdrawal, emotional outbursts, serious problems at school, or other signs of intense anxiety or emotional difficulties suggest the need for professional assistance.