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OFFICIALS TARGET THE TOLL OF THE WEEK'S STRESSES

Feeling stressed out, fearful, angry and distracted? Having trouble sleeping or concentrating at work? Do the hobbies and interests that usually add zip to your life feel distant and insignificant?

You, too, in a very definite way, are a victim of terrorism.

"People are trying to maintain a routine and stay focused, and are having difficulty doing that," Michael Weiner, Erie County's commissioner of mental health, said Friday. "This is not unusual. These are very normal reactions to extraordinary events."

Weiner made those comments during and after a press conference called by County Executive Joel A. Giambra that was designed to help people cope with the crisis.

Weiner said Buffalo Niagara's collective psyche will take an even more severe blow in the likely event that it becomes clear that more people with local ties lost their lives in Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

The horrors that unfolded were especially difficult, he said, for young children. They may refuse to go to school, get easily upset, change their eating habits and have nightmares, headaches or stomach pains.

Weiner suggests that parents limit their children's exposure to graphic television coverage and explain events to them in language and terms they can understand. Older children should be encouraged to express their feelings through conversation, writing or drawing, and to maintain their daily routines.

"Parents should be open, honest and truthful," Weiner said. "They should answer questions and not withhold information."

Giambra urged parents to spend lots of time with their children and to be especially patient and nurturing. "As a dad, I want to say to you that you can't give too many kisses and hugs at a time like this," he said.

Weiner said people should stay informed, but also maintain a balance in their lives and make sure the situation doesn't prevent them from carrying out their responsibilities at home or at work.

"It can overwhelm people," he said. "It can begin to dominate their lives."

Local mental health agencies, Weiner said, have not experienced any sizable rise in people needing assistance. Crisis Services reports a 30 percent increase in calls but many of those are from people offering to help rather than seeking it, he said.

Serious signs and symptoms include depression, thoughts of suicide or self-harm and aggressive impulses toward others, Weiner said.

He urged people to support friends and co-workers, and, if necessary, get assistance from clergymen, physicians or mental health agencies.

"There should be no shame or stigma in seeking help," he said.

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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