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Home > Research Articles > Fight stress of war, surgeon general says

San Jose Mercury News

Sunday, April 06, 2003

San Jose Mercury News

U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona told a group of California psychologists Friday that they play a critical role in helping people cope with feelings of fear, helplessness and depression that occur during anxious times of war and heightened terror alerts.

Speaking at the annual convention of the California Psychological Association, Carmona said the 24-hour news feeds from the front lines in Iraq have compounded the sense of uncertainty many Americans have been living with since the Sept. 11 attacks.

``Images of war and terrorism are everywhere,'' Carmona said in a keynote speech at the convention, this weekend at San Jose's Fairmont Hotel. ``When people are constantly exposed to war images and there is no respite, fear builds up until it becomes an individual's primary emotion.''

Carmona's speech resonated with a number of psychologists at the convention who are seeing increased levels of stress and anxiety, as well as feelings of a loss of control, among their patients.

Linda Banner, who is in private practice in Los Gatos, said these feelings often manifest themselves in the form of sleep problems, agitation, difficulty concentrating and sexual dysfunction.

``People feel powerless,'' Banner said. ``After Sept. 11, we lost our sense of safety.''

Carmona said that while many people feel fear and anxiety, members of the military are particularly vulnerable and may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after the war ends. In a culture that often stigmatizes emotional difficulties as a sign of weakness, he said, psychologists need to help people understand that their problems can be treated and they do not need to suffer.

``The toughest battles aren't always on the battlefield,'' Carmona said. ``Sometimes the toughest battles are in the mind, when people come home.''

One key to helping people cope, Carmona said, is teaching them how to be resilient. He noted that the American Psychological Association has posted a list of ``tips for resilience'' on its Web site. Among the tips: Maintain a daily routine. Volunteer. Take a break from the news.

Jana Martin, a clinical psychologist in Long Beach and president of the California Psychological Association, said she advises her patients to concentrate on the things they can control in their lives -- limiting the amount of TV they watch and spending more time with friends and family, for instance.

``It's important to be living your life as normal,'' said Genevieve Platt, who is in practice with Banner and also works with students at San Jose State University. ``I've had to tell some patients not to read the newspaper anymore. . . . It's OK to turn off the TV.''

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED

For more information on the American Psychological Association's tips on resilience, go to http:// helping.apa.org/resilience/war.html.

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