Emotional Aftershocks

Patricia Whitsett, center, is overcome with emotion during an outdoor viewing of the Michael Jackson memorial service in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Tuesday, July 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) CBS

America has struggled over the past year with the emotional aftershocks of Sept. 11.

Many of New York City's children continue to work through their feelings and emotions about that day, reported Early Show Medical Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.

A recent survey finds that 93 percent of children under 14 in New York City were either actual eyewitnesses to the attack, or saw images of the towers collapsing on television. Nearly half of those kids are still having emotional problems related to Sept. 11. The Early Show spoke to several families around New York — including seven children in one family who lost a parent.

The Fisher children lost their father when the twin towers collapsed. John Fisher was a Port Authority security consultant who tried to help people escape.

"I was in denial," said daughter Brigitte. "I thought he was still alive. Sometimes I thought I saw him at church … or around town."

John's other daughter, Erin, said, "I couldn't call up my dad and tell him I loved him and that I was sorry for fighting … I had no chance to say any last words."

The children found peace of mind at a bereavement camp called the Comfort Zone.

"The kids have an opportunity to share," said daughter Lynn. "And even if they're not comfortable sharing, they can identify with somebody else who's going to say something that they can relate to — the type of loss or where they were when they heard or maybe they're having bad dreams at night."

Brigitte says expressing her emotions at the camp helped a lot.

"I've been able to kind of evolve and grow and learn that my father knows that I love him," said Erin. "And he knows that I care about him and he knows that I wish we didn't fight."

Sharing their feelings through art has helped many other New York City children cope. Child psychologist Dr. Robin Goodman helped put together an art exhibit illustrating children's feelings about the events of Sept. 11.

"What the kids do in this art is personalize the experience," said Dr. Goodman. "There are kids that before were fine, and now are not because of the events of 9/11."

Goodman explained that some kids are at greater risk of suffering trauma on the anniversary of Sept. 11, regardless if they witnessed the event or were physically and emotionally affected because they knew somebody that died.

Patrick Duhaney, a 12-year-old from Brooklyn, witnessed the destruction first-hand.

"I saw as the plane came," said Duhaney. "It hit the tower … I saw the tower collapsing."

Duhaney's grandmother, Claudette Bourne, said he couldn't sleep. He told her he could relate to children who lost parents because he remembers his mother dying when he was six.

"I felt devastated at the time," said Duhaney. " I felt crushed and destroyed."

Duhaney got help at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Family Health Center. They provided counseling sessions for more than a hundred children.

"Coming to the center helped," said Duhaney. "I had a whole bunch of people that were there to talk to me. That helped."

The challenge is to help kids find optimism in the face of tragedy.

"We take care of each other more," said Kyle Fisher. "A lot more than before."

His sister, Evan, said, "I think it was a struggle, sort of, but a good struggle. One that you learn from."

A survey conducted in March revealed that 10 percent of New York City's kids suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. And 25 percent experienced depression, anxiety or other symptoms of emotional distress. A third of the city's children received some form of counseling since the attacks. Many children continue to receive some form of therapy or assistance.

For some families, Sept. 12 may be harder than Sept. 11 because as attention fades away, children begin to feel isolated. Children and adults have to remember to support each other going forward. However, not everyone is capable of moving on at this point.

To maintain the healing process in children, parents need to model confident behavior that renews a sense of security. In addition, they need to get help if they recognize problems in their children in the future. Just because the anniversary has come and gone does not mean that psychological issues will also disappear.

  • Rome Neal

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