WASHINGTON - Tipper Gore said at a “national town hall meeting'' here yesterday that thousands of Americans still suffer from mental trauma as a result of Sept. 11 but aren't getting help they need.
The wife of former Vice President Al Gore has made improving mental health a crusade since she herself suffered from depression. She said one out of three Americans experiences some form of post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Her group, the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign, formed in 1999 by Mrs. Gore and former President Bill Clinton to combat the “fear, shame, and stigma of mental illness,'' is holding “healing the American spirit'' meetings on the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Yesterday's session was in the nation's capital because one of the four hijacked planes hit the Pentagon and another plane was believed bound for the capital before it crashed in Pennsylvania. Also, one out of five residents of the District knows someone who was affected by the anthrax scare that took lives last year. A second session is planned for New York City.
Alma Powell, wife of Secretary of State Colin Powell, also has been a victim of depression and works with Mrs. Gore. They are urging anyone who needs help fighting mental illness or is still having flashbacks and nightmares from Sept. 11 to call 1-877-495-0009 or contact the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Braman, who worked for four days without stopping to recover bodies at the Pentagon, dramatically told the story of how he didn't break down for days until one day he had to pull over to the side of the road where he sat paralyzed for 45 minutes. He found himself getting angry when he heard people say they didn't know how to help, believing they should have been trained for emergencies. Eventually, he said, “I couldn't walk from here to that door without hyperventilating.''
Although he saved the life of one woman who clutched him tightly although she was burned, he said he turned down medals and that it is still hard for him to be hailed as a hero when so many people he pulled from the wreckage that day had to be put in body bags.
He said his young children are still upset when they see a picture of the Pentagon on television.
Dr. David Tornberg, deputy assistant secretary of defense for clinical and program policy, said that post traumatic stress syndrome is more complex than people realize and can be “horrific'' to an individual, especially children.
Dr. Tornberg said much of what is known about the syndrome came from military psychiatrists, especially after the Vietnam War and that immediate treatment “goes to the heart of survival.'' Facilities in the field to help deal with mass violence are now commonplace, he said.
Ross Szabo, a college student, said that after Sept. 11, the change in flight patterns of airplanes as Reagan National Airport was closed unnerved many of his friends. His girlfriend worked 100 feet from the World Trade Center and saw bodies fall.
In his role as youth spokesman for the mental health awareness campaign, he sent e-mails all over the nation to young people. He said that while many around the country were sad, the real trauma was mainly in the East.
“I found young people wanted to hate everybody. They developed a fear of planes. They were using more tobacco and alcohol - usage in college went way up. Eating disorders increased 40 percent on campus since 9/11.''