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The Psychological Toll of Terror in America

An estimate out this weekend puts the cost of the clean-up and rebuilding of lower Manhattan at about 40 billion dollars. What's much harder to calculate is the terror attacks' psychological toll.

That's tonight's Sunday cover story--Americans coming to grips with anxious times. The attacks of September 11th set off a cascade of emotions throughout America. First shock, then grief accompanied by anger and defiance against an elusive enemy.

And now, a nation full of uncertainty as the Dow plunges. Americans are anxious about flying, about chemical and biological horrors hidden in trucks and airplanes.

And despite pleas to return to normalcy, each day seems to bring a new alert about some potential new threat that serves to undermine the nation's peace of mind--including today.

On CBS' Face the Nation today, Attorney General John Ashcroft said, "We believe that there is the likelihood of additional terrorist activity."

Stores saw a rush to stock up on gas masks and a run on guns this past week.

One store owner says, "The phones have been ringing off the hook... people are just afraid."

"I think people are just numb right now, says psychologist Dr. John Draper. "There is so much shock."

Across the country, counselors are dealing with a flood of feelings. Mental health professionals say most people will work through the sadness using their normal coping skills.

"Connecting with people is crucial right now--that's a vital coping mechanism," says Draper.

But those same mental health professionals also caution that the country's psyche is moving into uncharted territory.

"I think we'll be facing another question, which is: How do we live with it?" says Draper. "Because there will be an on-going struggle as we've been hearing and we have to ask ourselves: How do we find peace of mind during this invisible wartime?"

Public health officials, who routinely conduct drills for biological and chemical attacks, say that the most important step a terrorized public can take is to take control--by separating fear from fact.

"People are almost being terrorized by stories about terrorism," says Dr. Alfred DeMaria, Massachusetts Director of Communicable Disease Control. "As a society we should be worried about bio-terrorism, but in point of fact, the actual risk--the actual likelihood of somebody being able to deliver these organisms in a way that would cause mass illness is somewhat questionable."

Rather than stocking up on gas masks, DeMaria recommends that Americans take stock in what is being done in their own communities to combat these threats.

"They should learn more about what their own local emergency plan is," says DeMaria-- and get involved if they want.

Facing up to fears born out of the terror attack can accomplish two goals, experts say: It can soothe the jitters of an anxious nation--and deny the terrorists the victory they seek.

"People's confidence is lowered an they are afraid," says DeMaria. "But I think right now people have to get some balance and perspective and channel this anxiety to more constructive activities."

Among the signs that people are doing just that, the latest CBS News/New York Times poll out last week showed 85% of Americans say that the U.S. should go back to business as usual.
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