Letters to the Editor

Syracuse University student underscores the importance of mental health in a post 9/11 world

I was 6 years old when live images of the north tower crept onto my classroom’s television. What happened next was suited for a movie: Fitted in the trappings of an FDNY paramedic, my mother scooped me up from school, drove me home, kissed me goodbye and raced to Lower Manhattan.

The woman I knew before 9/11 centered her life around selflessly saving the citizens of New York City. But when my mother returned home the next day, ashen and disoriented, she bore a new narrative — preserving the health she had left. She had to start saving herself.

As one of the thousands of permanently disabled 9/11 first responders, my mother has been diagnosed with a bevy of diseases since the towers fell. Some manifested slowly and stealthily, like the reactive airways dysfunction syndrome that started as a cough and eventually began to rival the worst asthma attacks. Others entered her life with ease, like the post-traumatic stress disorder that stole her personality for most of my childhood. My home was undeniably defined by the effects of the incident — by the panic attacks, the constant anger, the debilitating depression that occurred within its walls.

We have to become more cognizant of the lasting repercussions of terrorist attacks and other disasters, especially in the realm of mental illness. After the damage is assessed and the rubble is cleared, countless people — first responders, survivors, civilian witnesses, loved ones of the victims — often carry visible and invisible weights, many that could be lifted with appropriate awareness and resources.

I’ve met others from different backgrounds with almost indistinguishable stories, all linked by the same underlying cause — trauma. There are those who, like my family, were directly impacted by 9/11 and waited with bated breath for the passage of the Zadroga Act, despite backlash from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and others. There are those who bear similar scars but from different events, therefore lacking the same awareness and aid. The mechanisms of mental illness are complex, but proper support can help victims work on repairing what was broken by events that occurred beyond their control.

This year, on the 16th anniversary of the attacks, let’s spark a conversation about the continued conflict that victims of terrorism — domestic and abroad — endure daily. Let’s chip away at the stigma surrounding mental illness. Let’s support the injured, reflect on the sacrifices they’ve made and make the world a better place.

Sincerely,

Esmeralda Murray

Syracuse University ’18

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