Bereaved families of 9/11 victims largely show strong resilience, more than 15 years later

Bethesda, Md. – More than 15 years after Sept. 11, 2001, a majority of bereaved family members who lost a loved one in the terrorist attacks that day appear to be healthy and are not reporting symptoms of a mental health condition, while one-third still likely meet the criteria for depression, grief, and anxiety, according to a recent collaborative study led by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU).

The study, “Patterns of Comorbidity Among Bereaved Family Members 14 Years after the September 11th, 2001, Terrorist Attacks,” was published June 17 in the Journal of Trauma.

Researchers at USU’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress recently teamed up with the Canadian Resource Center for Victims of Crime along with Voices of September 11th to examine patterns of resilience and recovery of those who were devastated by the loss of a loved one at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or in Shanksville, Pa. They sought to better understand the long-term needs of this population – an area that has not been well researched.

Participants enrolled in the study were immediate and extended family members (parents, spouses, siblings, and children) of individuals who died as a result of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The 454 participants completed an anonymous, online questionnaire, 15 years after September 11th, asking questions geared toward assessing whether they met the criteria for clinical depression, anxiety, complicated grief, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Sixty-six percent did not report symptoms consistent with a mental health condition. The remaining one-third of the sample included two symptomatic groups of individuals who were more likely to meet the criteria for depression, grief, and anxiety. Of those two groups, one was more impaired and had a greater likelihood of having PTSD. Both of these groups reported more negative life events after 9/11, as opposed to the group with reportedly healthy individuals.

Additionally, the symptomatic groups were more likely to be younger, have less education, and would describe themselves as being less satisfied with their social support. The group that reportedly had symptoms of PTSD was also more likely to include parents of those who perished, and was more likely to have experienced trauma unrelated to 9/11, compared to the other groups.

Overall, the researchers believe these findings have important clinical implications for family members bereaved by acts of terror.

“It’s reassuring, but not surprising, that the majority of this population appears healthy and resilient,” said Dr. Stephen Cozza, senior scientist at USU’S CSTS and lead author on the study. “However, there are still many bereaved family members who continue to struggle due to 9/11 loss. Clinicians and community service providers must recognize these challenges, when present and refer symptomatic surviving family members to appropriate intervention.”

This research was supported by a grant by Voices of September 11th and was also partially funded by Public Safety Canada’s Kanishka Project Contribution Program.

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About the Uniformed Services University:

The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) is the nation’s only Federal health sciences university.  USU educates, trains and prepares uniformed services health professionals, officers and leaders to directly support the Military Health System, the National Security and National Defense Strategies of the United States and the readiness of our armed forces. For more information, visit:

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