Americans understand the psychological threat of terrorism and want help

Americans know that terrorism is psychological warfare designed to cause fear and distress among the public. And most Americans believe the United States will experience a terrorist attack in the near future.

Those are among the leading conclusions reached in a December 2003 nationally representative and census-balanced telephone study conducted by Widmeyer Research and Polling, Washington, DC, for several national mental health groups.

Americans reported that besides worrying about a coming terrorist attack, the intentional nature of terrorism and fear of the unknown are major reasons they experience fear and distress about the threat of terrorism.

They say the government is not doing enough to address the mental health impact of the threat of terrorism, and there is strong sentiment for the position that public officials could do a much better job of communicating with the public about the issue and that the nation’s public health, medical, and emergency response systems are not meeting the mental health needs of the public that result from the threat of terrorism.

Americans told the pollsters they want access to programs that will help them cope with the fear and distress the threat of terrorism causes.

They want the federal government to take the lead, but also want the mental health community involved in delivery of programs at the community level.

Other poll findings:

  • The mental health or psychological effects of the threat of terrorism are varied and widespread, and Americans say the threat of terrorism has led to changes in their behavior. Noteworthy, Widmeyer says, is that the threat of terrorism has strengthened, not weakened, America’s religious faith.
  • Americans identify certain groups of people that they feel are especially at risk of experiencing fear and distress about the threat of terrorism, including parents with young children and Americans suffering from mental health problems.
  • The public believes that media coverage of the threat of terrorism makes people more fearful. They say that network and cable news has done the most effective job of providing balanced coverage about the threat of terrorism.
  • The threat of terrorism reaches into every U.S. community. Americans living in all parts of the country are concerned about the threat, and the demand for informational programs is widespread across the nation.
  • Americans display resiliency in the face of the threat of terrorism and many say that even terrible events like terrorism can have positive outcomes. Knowing where to go for help and counseling is a major factor in helping Americans become more resilient.

(Download a copy of the full report from the web site of the National Mental Health Association at