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Craig Katz

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It was obviously a place of intense emotion and a lot of people, and organized chaos, I guess I would say, that got organized extremely quickly. It was quite remarkable. Professionally, what we saw were a number of people that were laboring under intense emotions. Not necessarily abnormal emotions necessarily, but that they found burdensome at the time. Can't sleep, preoccupied, worried, can't eat, things like that, that you would expect with time would dissipate, but at the time were burdensome enough that they either sought us out or were referred to, us even from September 12 on.

I remember being there on Saturday just after September 11, I think we saw about 25 people that day alone, formally. On top of which we were also participating in helping people to review hospital lists, which was really the main reason at that point that people were coming to the family assistance center, to find out was their loved one in a hospital. Which would be the greatest possible news they could receive, and the city had made the decision to have mental health professionals be the one to go through those lists.

I think that for the various of our volunteers as well as the others that did that work, I think it was pretty intense to say the least, and opportunities to provide support, make sure, by which I mean making sure the family members who are sitting in front of you are taking care of themselves under the circumstances, and giving them a little bit of information about what to kind of monitor in themselves, as they, as the situation unfolded, and making them aware that we are there to help them if they want to come back.

So, it was a hodgepodge of just intense emotional reactions, and for us as an organization, it was a matter of gearing up really quickly, and actually dealing with something that even overwhelmed our infrastructure, and actually required our channeling this enormous volunteer outpouring in a very quick time. Basically assimilating volunteers that we did not know on September 10.

So we went from being a small organization of maybe a dozen of us, and that's probably a generous estimation, to having over 700 psychiatrists. And the question, is how do you make sure that they are above-board and trained, because disaster psychiatry, which is the name of this field, is a specific area of practice. And so we had to do a lot very quickly. We had to expand our staff and get funding to do it very quickly. And somehow we pulled it off and I think we did a fair job in those initial days. And then as the days unfolded and turned to weeks, you started to see a lot of symptoms, emotional symptoms, psychological ones, physical ones that crop up, and still need to be dealing with those, but as time goes on, you start thinking that maybe if the symptoms aren't going away, then maybe in fact they've evolved into a more persistent problem. What you might even think of as a diagnosable problem, like major depression or acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. There are specific criteria for those. So with time, we were keeping an eye out for that.

And ultimately, the services that we provide including evaluating the people who had needs, trying to give them brief symptom management, which might include prescribing a short-term course of sleep medication or anxiety medication, and potentially referring them on for ongoing care.



Back to: Untangling the Mysteries