Question: Why were professional mental health services apparently underutilized after 9/11, and did people receive emotional support from alternative sources?
Approach: Bartenders and hairdressers in New York City were surveyed by telephone to evaluate their role as natural community helpers.
Objective: Pathological emotional responses to trauma can paradoxically lead to reluctance to engage in treatment. Some people may feel more comfortable discussing emotional reactions with members of the community, such as bartenders or personal service providers, who are referred to as “natural helpers,” and can serve as de facto care givers. The purpose of this study was to learn more about the role of these helpers and their reactions following the attacks of 9/11.
Method: A brief questionnaire was developed. Bartenders and hairdressers were contacted by telephone during June and July of 2002, and asked how the 9/11 attacks affected their business, their interactions with customers, and whether they suffered adverse reactions to filling the role of natural helper in a disaster environment. Librarians were used as a control.
Results: 37 bartenders, 48 hairdressers, and 48 librarians agreed to participate in the study. Compared to librarians, significantly more hairdressers and bartenders reported that their customers wanted to talk about their emotional reactions to the attacks, that it was difficult for them to talk to so many people about this topic, and that they tried to avoid the topic with others because of so much exposure at work.
Conclusions: Bartenders and hairdressers reported an increased desire among their customers to talk about emotional topics following the 9/11 attacks, and experienced some adverse emotional effects.
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