Television Images and Psychological Symptoms After the September 11 Terrorist Attacks
Exposure to graphic television images may exacerbate psychological symptoms in disaster situations. We tested the hypotheses that (1) more frequent viewing of television images of the September 11 terrorist attacks was associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, and that (2) direct exposure to disaster events had an interactive effect with media viewing. We recruited 1,008 adult residents of the borough of Manhattan in New York City through a random-digit-dial telephone survey conducted between October 16 and November 15, 2001. Respondents who repeatedly saw "people falling or jumping from the towers of the World Trade Center" had higher prevalence of PTSD (17.4%) and depression (14.7%) than those who did not (6.2% and 5.3%, respectively). Among respondents who were directly affected by the attacks (e.g., had a friend killed), those who watched this television image frequently were more likely to have PTSD and depression than those who did not. Among respondents not directly affected by the attacks, prevalence of PTSD and depression was not associated with frequency of television image viewing. Specific disaster-related television images were associated with PTSD and depression among persons who were directly exposed to a disaster. Future research should address causal directionality of this association.