Posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms following media exposure to tragic events: Impact of 9/11 on children at risk for anxiety disorders

Michael W. Otto, Aude Henin, Dina R. Hirshfeld-Becker, Mark H. Pollack, Joseph Biederman, Jerrold F. Rosenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations

Abstract

With the extensive media coverage on September 11, 2001, adults and children indirectly witnessed the terrorist attacks leading to the deaths of almost 3,000 people. An ongoing longitudinal study provided the opportunity to examine pre-event characteristics and the impact of this media exposure. We assessed symptoms of PTSD in 166 children and 84 mothers who had no direct exposure to the 9/11 attacks. The sample included children who had parents with or without anxiety and mood disorders, and who had been assessed for the presence or absence of temperamental behavioral inhibition (BI). We found a 5.4 percent rate of symptomatic PTSD in response to 9/11 in children and 1.2 percent in their mothers. Children's identification with victims of the attack, and for younger children, the amount of television viewing predicted increased risk of PTSD symptoms. Parental depression was associated with higher symptoms, and pre-event levels of family support was associated with a lower risk for PTSD symptoms. BI in children was also linked to lower rates of PTSD symptoms, suggesting that a cautious and fearful approach to novelty may offer protection against exposure to media-based traumatic images. Media viewing of tragic events is sufficient to produce PTSD symptoms in vulnerable populations such as children. Given the links between PTSD symptoms and viewing habits, parental monitoring of media exposure may be important for younger children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)888-902
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Anxiety Disorders
Volume21
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Anxiety
  • Behavioral inhibition
  • Child
  • Media exposure
  • PTSD symptoms

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