How events such as Sept. 11 have affected our collective mental health

The Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001, the D.C. sniper attacks in 2002 and the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. They all caused pain and suffering on a mass scale, but a Northern Virginia psychiatrist believes they also reflected the commonality of the human experience and helped advance the cause of mental health.

“There’s more advocacy, both on a local level and a national level for mental health treatment,” said Dr. Lauren Grawert, of the mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, who has board certification in psychiatry and in addiction psychiatry. “Those are some consequences — I think some good consequences — that have come from some painful experiences, in terms of our society recognizing the need for mental health treatment.”

Grawert said the pandemic helped to make treatment more accessible than ever through virtual care. “You can see mental health providers by phone; you can see mental health providers by video — on a level that was never available prior,” she said.

While perceptions are evolving, Grawert believes there’s still ways to go.

“But we’re getting closer. Meaning that there still, unfortunately, is a lot of pervasive stigma around mental health and mental health treatment,” she said.


Remembering Sept. 11


Grawert said she believes the events of 2001 ushered in an era of heightened security measures and suspicion, along with a shift in societal values about being able to trust others, as well.

“9/11 and the sniper have really made folks wary of the other, [and] their fellow Americans. Because if you think about it, the sniper event was kind of your person around the corner,” Grawert said.

Depending on individual situations, Grawert said she believes recovery and healing from Sept. 11, 2001, is an ongoing process.

“And that’s OK. I think the important question for each person to ask is, ‘What am I doing differently from a coping skills perspective, to be on a path to healing and recovery? And, do I need more support, be it from friends, family, mental health treatment?,'” Grawert said.

“And, that we continue as a society to advocate for more mental health treatment, both in terms of more access and more resources.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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