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Researchers: Almost half of bombing survivors developed stress

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A study of survivors of the Oklahoma City
bombing found that nearly half developed post-traumatic stress
disorder or had other psychiatric illnesses, such as depression or
problems with drugs and alcohol.

The researchers said they were surprised by the degree of
suffering and hope the results help mental health professionals
focus their efforts after disasters.

The study, published in Wednesday's Journal of the American
Medical Association, looked at 182 adults who were inside or just
outside the federal building when the bomb went off in 1995,
killing 168 people and injuring nearly 700. The survivors were
interviewed six months after the blast.

Forty-five percent of those studied were found to suffer
illnesses that included chronic depression and drug and alcohol
problems.

The biggest single group of survivors -- one out of three -- had
post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition often seen in Vietnam
veterans. Its symptoms include flashbacks, angry outbursts and
sleep and concentration problems.

The study was conducted by researchers at Washington University,
the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the University of
Oklahoma Health Sciences.

Bombing survivors have described nightmares, a fear of entering
tall buildings, loss of trust and flashbacks triggered by loud
noises.

"I can still smell the smoke," said Martin Cash, a former
benefits counselor with the Veterans Administration who lost an eye
in the bombing. Once, when his wife was moving furniture at their
home, she bumped the wall.

"That big thud, I came unglued," he said.

Charlie Younger, who was in a business meeting on the fourth
floor when the bomb went off, said he hasn't been able to watch
violent movies, finds it difficult to trust people, and doesn't
like tall buildings.

"I'm nervous all the time, especially if I can't look out a
window," he said.

Fifty-five percent of those studied needed only counseling, not
psychiatric care, said Dr. Carol North, a psychiatrist at
Washington University's School of Medicine in St. Louis and one of
the study's authors.

"Nobody was untouched by this disaster, but different people
were touched differently," she said. "Human distress is
understandable after horrendous events such as this. We should not
necessarily equate that with mental illness."

Those with more serious injuries were more prone to develop a
disorder, as were those who had a family member seriously injured
or killed. Survivors most at risk were those who refused to think
about the event and had feelings of isolation and loss of interest
in their surroundings.

Recognizing those symptoms immediately after a disaster could
help identify those who need the most help, the researchers said.

Gwen Allen, director of Project Heartland, which was created
with a federal grant to provide counseling for those affected by
the bombing, said that getting help as quickly as possible was
critical.

"Those who got the work early on, who got into counseling, have
done better. The key is that early intervention," she said.


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