By Stephen McKinley
As the FBI warned Tuesday that further terror attacks in the U.S. were likely, Irish community leaders in the tri-state area have been assessing the impact of trauma and upheaval in the community since Sept. 11.
“Distressing dreams, nightmares, anxious dreams, a state of hypervigilance or disturbed sleep,” said psychotherapist Eibhlin Donlon-Farry of Yonkers, “these are all symptoms to look for as evidence of trauma — of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Donlon-Farry stressed that the condition is a documented one, the diagnosis of which is based on the American Psychotherapy Association’s Diagnosis Statistical Manual IV. A general sense of unsettlement, which can also come to light in many other forms of behavior, can indicate that an individual is experiencing PSTB.
However, she noted that there is a reluctance in the wider Irish community to seek professional help, and people have responded to their feelings in many different ways.
At the Aisling Center, Fr. Tom Flynn agreed. He has helped arrange for a psychotherapist and four counselors to be present on Friday evenings for people to speak with. But Flynn admitted that while quite a few of the Irish from the neighborhood had come to the Center, only a few were availing of the counseling on offer.
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“The response has not been particularly great,” Flynn told the Echo, “which I attribute to a certain reluctance to go to counseling among the Irish.” He added that on average about 10 people were speaking to counselors every Friday.
One Irish-born rescue worker who had been at the World Trade Center said that in the weeks after the disaster he and his friends had simply turned to “the traditional medication” and went out for drinks and conversation most evenings. Both Donlon-Farry and Flynn suggested that being with friends can certainly be very helpful.
“Response to trauma is more individual than behavioral,” Donlon-Farry said. “Some people will withdraw into themselves and become depressed. Others will want to talk everything through.”
Father Colm Campbell of Holy Trinity Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, said, “It is important for people to focus on the areas of their lives that bring good things and joy.”
But a further concern for the community leaders is that the economic downturn will keep pace with the emotional downturn, and already some Irish are responding to the situation by simply leaving the U.S., or making plans to leave.
Flynn noted that as an extension of the trauma felt by many people in the Irish community, there has been an increase in Irish people deciding to go home. Some have already left and others he knew of are planning to leave the U.S. by Christmas.
“Quite a few have been going home,” agreed Campbell, who has noticed the trend in his own counseling ministry from Holy Trinity Church.
“Indeed, I helped a couple with the fare, because they were broke,” he said. ” They’d worked in restaurants and bars and the work had dried up.”
“I know of someone who was here, waiting tables in a restaurant,” Campbell continued. “She had also had a little success so far in starting a career in modeling.” But, he said, the person had lost her job and could not afford to wait to see if the economy would recover. So she returned to Ireland.
Both Flynn and Campbell are worried that Irish people may make big changes in their lives at short notice — such as moving back to Ireland or leaving their job — and perhaps find that later, it wasn’t necessarily the best decision. Campbell has made a point in recent years of urging Irish immigrants to get their U.S. citizenship quickly, having that as a fail-safe option if a return to Ireland turns out not to be the experience they had hoped it would be.
At the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Woodside, Queens, director Anne-Marie Scanlon emphasized the same point.
“We have seen a marked increase in [U.S.] citizenship applications,” Scanlon said, “and that would lead you to believe that people may be preparing to move back to Ireland but want to leave open the option of coming back here.
“We have also had a lot of calls from undocumented people seeking advice on whether to stay or to go.”
Scanlon stressed that such decisions are ultimately up to the individual and that the best that the various counseling and advice centers can do is to leave them with “informed choices.”
“In the aftermath of Sept. 11, internal security has been beefed up and for a lot of undocumented people that means no internal travel by planes,” Scanlon said. “There is also the loss of livelihood in the service industries.”
In contrast, at the Irish Consulate in New York, officials have noticed an increase in Americans inquiring about eligibility for Irish citizenship. A spokesperson said that it may be because some Americans would prefer to have an Irish passport while traveling abroad, or even to consider relocating to Ireland if they thought that the possibility of further terror attacks in the U.S. was likely.
Father Flynn said that he hopes that people would overcome any reluctance towards seeking professional counseling, and use the resources that are available.
“We see the need to see a doctor if our foot was hurting, but not the need for emotional concerns,” he said.