In a few days, the tenth anniversary of 9/11 will be upon us. While most people can still remember where they were when they first heard about the attacks, for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the anniversary can be extra painful, for a variety of reasons.

According to a recent NY Times article:

One measure of the psychological impact of 9/11 is this: At least 10,000
firefighters, police officers and civilians exposed to the terrorist attack
on the World Trade Center have been found to have post-traumatic stress
disorder, and in a kind of mass grieving, many of them have yet to recover,
according to figures compiled by New York City’s three 9/11 health programs.

PTSD is a diagnosis that has generated a lot of controversy since it was listed in the DSM thirty years ago. Your partner might not have developed PTSD as a direct result of the 9/11 tragedy, but perhaps they subsequently fought in a war that came out of the terrorist attacks, or they suffered some other trauma that is still haunting them now. The anniversary of 9/11 is going to have a lot of media coverage, and your partner may experience extra anxiety or exacerbation of symptoms during this time, even if their PTSD is not directly 9/11-related.

What to watch for in your partner

Here are some of the common symptoms of PTSD:

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event, either through dreams, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts they feel they can’t control, or having mental or physical reactions when reminded of the event
  • Feeling disconnected from others, or actually distancing themselves from others
  • Having a limited range of emotions
  • Having a sense of a shortened future
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance–checking the doors and windows, not being able to relax, watching everyone around them
  • Poor sleep
  • Being easily startled
  • Irritability and angry outbursts

How to help your partner

  • Try to avoid the media coverage of the 9/11 anniversary, at least in the presence of your partner. If they are insisting on watching it, be there with them, and talk with them about their feelings.
  • If your partner is not currently in treatment, have a conversation about getting them some therapy.
  • Distract your partner. Get out of the house and do a favorite activity together: movies, meal out, shopping, dancing, volunteering, hiking, biking…
  • Connect with others who are going through what you and your partner are going through. Start here with an online forum for general PTSD or here for a forum that’s military-related.
  • Offer your partner your presence. Sometimes, you don’t have to do anything to help: just being there is enough. But that means really being there, as in, no distractions. Turn off the cell phone, leave the iPad in the other room.


Helping a Family Member Who Has PTSD

Caring for Someone With PTSD

PTSD and Relationships



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From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (September 5, 2011)

B.L. McMillan (September 5, 2011)

Michael Dowell (September 5, 2011)

hardknoxfirst (September 5, 2011)

BallerinaX (September 5, 2011)

Mental Health Social (September 5, 2011)

NAMI Massachusetts (September 11, 2011)

    Last reviewed: 22 Aug 2011

APA Reference
Thieda, K. (2011). 9/11 and Your Partner With PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 27, 2015, from



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