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What Can 9/11 Teach Us About Mental Health for COVID-19?

Grant H Brenner
5 min readApr 22, 2020

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Disaster mental health experts share learning in the wake of coronavirus.

by Jonathan DePierro and Craig Katz, Guest Authors

The COVID-19 pandemic presents one of the largest collective traumas in recent memory, emerging among the still-ongoing global AIDS pandemic and conflict-related refugee crisis. As of April 22, 2020, over 2.34 million people across the world have been infected with COVID-19 and there have been approximately 178,000 deaths (Johns Hopkins University, 2020). In New York State, one of the global hotspots for this tragedy, there have been more than 258,000 infections and 19,000 deaths, far exceeding the number of lives lost there on 9/11/01. Yet, several clear lessons learned from the mental health response to 9/11 may be applied to this pandemic.

Prevention efforts

Adverse mental health effects following trauma are often proportional to the intensity of exposure. Many 9/11 responders and survivors had toxic exposure to the “dust cloud” from the collapse of the WTC buildings, compounded by seeing loss of life and encountering human remains. Particularly for emergency responders, there was inadequate monitoring of this “dosing,” especially the duration of their time at Ground Zero in rescue and…

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Grant H Brenner

Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Disaster Responder, Advocate, Photographer