Originally created 12/16/01

Fear fades in wake of terrorism



AIKEN - Just a little more than three months after the Sept. 11 attacks, local researchers, police and mental health officials said Aiken County seems to be mentally healthy.

A study released this month by the University of South Carolina Aiken shows county residents reacted similarly to the rest of the nation in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Residents agreed with the nation on such topics as presidential approval, measures to curb terrorism and civil liberties issues.

The one main exception, according to a survey a month after the terrorist attacks, is that more than 80 percent of Aiken County residents said they haven't been losing sleep over the attacks.

The authors of the study, professors Robert E. Botsch and Brian D. Lisk, said the elapsed time might have allowed for psychological recovery.

"Aiken County respondents may have recovered from the initial shock and forgotten any minor sleeping problems they may have encountered," the authors wrote.

The USC Aiken study was conducted between Oct. 30 and Nov. 12. Eighteen percent reported losing sleep at that time.

It was compared with national studies commissioned by the Pew Research Center and conducted Sept. 13-17. Forty-two percent reported losing sleep then.

The percentage of people saying they knew someone hurt, missing or killed in the attacks was the same for both studies - 20 percent.

That translates to more than 28,000 county residents, but this close connection apparently has not contributed to more people seeking mental health services, Aiken-Barnwell Mental Health Center Director Diane Cavenaugh said.

She said an initial wave of calls came from parents wanting to know how to discuss the topic with their children. But she said only individuals with "severe and persistent" mental illness seemed preoccupied with the terrorist attacks.

"We haven't had any people that have come in and said, 'This has caused me to seek help,"' Ms. Cavenaugh said.

Although the fear wasn't crippling for most, the concerns lingered. Adding to them, roughly a month after Sept. 11, the nation began worrying about anthrax. Aiken County received its first scare Oct. 12 in Clearwater.

Lt. Michael Frank of the Aiken County Sheriff's Office confirmed that mail scare calls have decreased.

"We have responded to more than 50 calls since (that first report)," he said, "but those calls have dropped off dramatically. I think everyone's general level of anxiety has come down. People are not reacting with as much emotion. They're just more logical and more calm."

"I think everyone's general level of anxiety has come down. People are not reacting with as much emotion. They're just more logical and more calm." - Lt. Michael Frank, Aiken County sheriff's office

Reach Eric Williamson at (803) 648-1395 or eric.williamson@augustachronicle.com.