By Alice Adler
We have all felt it. It can be a thought that merely lingers in the back of one’s head, or it can be an alarming sense of anxiety. Terrorism may not physically hurt us all, but psychologically it terrorizes us. It seems that the purpose of terror attacks is not only to wreak destruction on populations, buildings and infrastructure, but also to wreak havoc on our nervous systems. By and large in the Western world, we are privileged not to live in fear of unknown enemies. Consequently, the ‘culture of terror’ has taken us by surprise, and is a shock to our collective system. We are, however, learning how to cope with this phenomenon, with pharmaceutical treatment acting as one mechanism through which to stabilize this anxiety and fear.
Premeditated acts of horror have a greater effect on the individual, and create longer lasting mental health issues, than natural disasters. When a terrorist attack occurs, media coverage often plays into the ‘anxiety effect’ by sensationalizing events and presenting the coverage in the genre of a ‘thriller’. Elements of the media can be overwhelmingly predictable when it comes to certain issues. A further reason for why treating ‘terrorism anxiety’ is challenging, is because the body does not have the chance to stabilize when a series of unpredictable acts of terror occur in succession. Just as a person starts to calm down from one event, another attack will ignite their anxiety.
The dreadful shock that was caused by the September 11 attacks in America in 2001 reverberated throughout the Western World. The horrific sight of the World Trade Center collapsing initiated widespread fear. Whilst many will work through the anxiety caused by an experience such as this on their own, individual circumstance means that some people require help. After an incident such as 9/11, talking therapy practitioners are in great demand, with people turning to their doctors for help with sleeping problems, anxiety and depression. Anxiety resulting from terrorist attacks often presents itself as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as generalized anxiety disorder and agoraphobia. Consequently, doctors will often prescribe anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants for an initial six-month period. Historically it has also been common for people suffering from traumatic events such as these to turn to recreational drugs, including heroin, ketamine, LSD, MDMA and marijuana. However, these drugs are all sold and bought illegally, so there is no official documentation on why and for what reasons they are bought and used.
When a patient suffering from anxiety visits a doctor, there are several options with regard to treatment. One of the most widely prescribed drugs is Citalopram. This is used for depression and anxiety, and its main purpose is to balance the serotonin levels in one’s brain, stabilizing a person’s mood. In the Western world, the use of antidepressants such as Citalopram has risen since 9/11. In a study carried out by the American Medical Association, it was revealed that from 1999 to 2012 the percentage of Americans who were prescribed antidepressants rose from 6.8 percent to 13 percent. Whilst we might not be able to attribute this rise to terrorist attacks alone, it would certainly appear to be an important factor.
On the whole, most patients respond positively to prescribed medication for anxiety, finding that sleeping patterns normalize, and general anxiety symptoms as well as panic attack symptoms reduce. Christine Choy, a British psychotherapist with a private practice, has noted that whilst there are certain side effects to these drugs, for many this is “a small price to pay in order to quell their anxiety and allow them to embrace the extraordinary joys that life has to offer, and of which terrorism threatens to take away.” For many, pharmaceutical drugs can be the key to dealing with the anxiety that is induced by terror attacks.
We have all heard it. There is a lower chance of falling victim to a terrorist attack than there is of your car crashing, being struck by lightning three times in one year, or even getting food poisoning at your local Starbucks. Yet we find it almost impossible to internalize this concept and therefore remain victims to anxiety and fear. Fortunately, pharmaceutical treatment can be of much help, and is one of our many privileges in the Western world. Often it can release us from the paralysis of anxiety, and allow those of us who need it to maintain structure within our lives.