9/11 first responders still suffering mental trauma 20 years after attacks


New York — Lieutenant Brian Bonsignore of the New York Fire Department spent six months working recovery at ground zero after 9/11. His GPS unit marked the exact location of victims’ remains.

Lieutenant Brian Bonsignore of the New York Fire Department
Lieutenant Brian Bonsignore of the New York Fire Department


“You would come home at the end of the day and you had the smell of death on you, your shoes, your pores of your skin, your hair,” he said.

Bonsignore developed asthma and PTSD. 9/11 anniversaries trigger symptoms of PTSD.

“You become very sharp with people,” he said. “You become very distanced with people. I dealt with it by disassociating myself from it, from TVs, newspaper, events, and if you relive it, it just piles on and piles on and piles on.”

Dr. Sandra Lowe directs mental health services for the World Trade Center Health Program at Mount Sinai.

“Some individuals are actually having what we call their anniversary reactions earlier than usual,” Lowe said. “For some people, it’s because this anniversary happens to be coming in the context of a pandemic … Some patients started isolating more during the pandemic and having a really hard time actually mobilizing themselves.”

This 20th anniversary coming on the heels of the pandemic is even triggering first-time mental health issues.

“We had eight new patients coming in, and all of them needed psychiatric treatment,” Lowe said.

For Bonsignore, the memories are so vivid, but he thinks for some others that the memories are fading too quickly.

“I think that it should be talked about, what they did,” he said. “They gave their life, not me.”

And honoring that sacrifice could be another path to healing.

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