Participant reactions to survey research in the general population after terrorist attacks



There remains concern that survey research after a disaster can precipitate or exacerbate distress among study participants. The authors surveyed 5,774 persons in three random-digit-dial telephone surveys of the general population of New York City conducted 1–2 months, 4–5 months, and 6–9 months after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Overall, 746 (12.9%) people who finished the surveys said that the survey questions were upsetting but only 57 (1.0% overall) were still upset at the end of the interview, and 19 (0.3%) wanted assistance from a counselor. Ten persons who did not finish the survey also received counselor assistance. Persons with mental health symptoms were more likely to find the survey questions emotionally upsetting as were participants who lacked salutary resources, including health insurance and a regular health care provider. Although relatively few of those interviewed found the survey assessment disturbing, the presence of a small number of respondents who wanted mental health assistance suggests the need for a mental health backup system for research conducted soon after exposure to large-scale traumatic events.