OBJECTIVE: Previous studies have demonstrated the effects of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks on anxiety and anxiety-related conditions in Americans. However, data regarding associations between the attacks and patients' health perceptions are lacking. The objective of this study was to explore associations between the personal impact of the September 11th attacks and patients' perceptions of health and illness.
METHOD: We performed a cross-sectional survey of 303 adult African-American, Caucasian, and Hispanic patients at primary care clinics in Houston, Texas. Data were collected between October 15, 2001 and March 1, 2002. We developed items to measure the impact of the September 11th attacks and patients' quality of life. Previously validated scales were used to measure health status, health locus of control, preferences regarding the patient-physician relationship, and patients' explanatory models of illness.
RESULTS: Twenty-two percent of patients reported no impact from the attacks, 41% reported mildly negative impact, 22% reported moderately negative impact, and 15% reported extremely negative impact in their lives. In multivariate analysis, demographic characteristics were not associated with impact from the attacks. However, patients who perceived a more external locus of control with respect to health and patients who reported greater meaning of illness in their lives also reported more negative impact from the September 11th attacks.
CONCLUSIONS: The September 11th terrorist attacks had at least a somewhat negative impact for a majority of patients far from the site of the nearest attack, and regardless of their demographic backgrounds. The amount of negative impact that patients perceived as a result of the terrorist attacks correlates with certain illness perceptions, including an external health locus of control and a perception of greater meaning of illness in one's life. Such correlations may indicate an effect of terrorism on patients' illness behaviors. Further research is needed to better understand effects of the threat of terrorism on the general health and illness behaviors of patients.