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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia Epidemiologists Probe Comorbid PTSD with Depression a Decade after 9/11

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most commonly reported mental illness in survivors of the World Trade Center disaster in New York City. A new study co-authored by Dr. Steven D. Stellman, Mailman School professor of clinical Epidemiology and senior author, has found a high prevalence of comorbid PTSD and depression among nearly 30,000 persons who were rescue or recovery workers, lower Manhattan residents or area workers, or passersby on the morning of 9/11 a decade or more after the terrorist attacks. Findings are published in the in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

[Photo: Dr. Steven D. Stellman]

Participants were enrollees in the World Trade Center Health Registry who had participated in three waves of data collection between 2003 and 2012. One-fifth of those studied, or 5,896 enrollees, screened positive for either PTSD or depression 10 years after 9/11, and just over half of those, or 2,985, screened positive for both conditions. In other words, persons with either condition were more likely to have both than either outcome alone.

Comorbid PTSD and depression was associated with high 9/11 exposures, low social integration, and health-related unemployment. Comorbid individuals experienced poorer life satisfaction and overall health, and reported greater unmet mental health care needs compared to those with a single condition.

The Registry is a cohort study of survivors of the 9/11 disaster in New York City and carried out at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Dr. Stellman is research director for the Registry. The first author of the study, Ms. Kimberly Caramanica, is a recent graduate of the Mailman School of Public Health and a research scientist with the Registry. Their findings highlight the importance of screening for and treating both PTSD and depression after a traumatic disaster.