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Neuropsychologist Says Nightmare Subway Commutes Could Lead To PTSD

The C train during a Friday rush hour.
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The C train during a Friday rush hour. Jen Chung / Gothamist

My blood pressure has started spiking at the sound of the phrase "We Are Being Delayed Because Of Train Traffic Ahead Of Us," and apparently this is something else for me to worry about—according to a new report in the NY Post, our increasingly decrepit subway reality could go so far as to leave some straphangers with acute stress disorder, which often progresses into PTSD, if left untreated.

The possibility of acute stress disorder has less to do with suffering through consecutive Showtime dance performances and inconvenient commutes—not that either experience is fun, mind you—and more with actual nightmare scenarios, like getting stuck underground. Such a fate befell one unlucky batch of F train riders, who just week were trapped on a dark, overheated, crowded train for over 40 minutes. "It was so hot that once we got stuck and the lights went out, it started to feel like a steam box," Sciaraffo told Gothamist soon after last Sunday's incident. "People started jamming books and umbrellas to get the doors and windows open. To get the sweet relief of the passing trains."

This is not good for one's mental health. "Being trapped like that can cause an acute stress disorder. People can develop panic attacks, flashbacks, and severe sleep disturbances," Dr. Susanne Cooperman, a neuropsychologist at NYU Langone, told the Post. "Every time they lay down, they relive the experience."

She added, “Being in that small of a space can be very scary. When you panic, it feels like a heart attack. When you’re in that small of a space, even though reason tells you you have oxygen and you’re okay, something on your brain shuts down and you start to panic and get thirty, dizzy and have heart palpations, you have a real stress response."

Last week's harrowing scenario is rare, but it has happened before—indeed, in 2013 another crowded F train got stuck on a broken rail for over two hours; in 2015 E train riders were trapped on a stalled train, also for two hours; and 2010's massive snowstorm trapped a whole slew of commuters, with one A train stranding straphangs for six hours. And over the last few years, straphangers have been suffering even more problems during their commutes, thanks to the aging subway system's crumbling infrastructure, rendering a trapped-underground scenario even more likely.

The MTA says they're working to combat delays, broken rails, and other infrastructure-related issues, and last month they released a "six point plan" professing to do just that. Though the MTA has not yet responded to Gothamist's request for comment, spokesperson Kevin Ortiz told the Post that the agency does what it can to communicate with riders in the event that a train gets stuck. "The MTA is in constant communication with riders, and train crews are required to provide detailed information on the cause of any delay to customers both immediately after the event occurs, as well as every five minutes after that for the duration of the delay," he said.

On the bright side, commuting by train is still better for your mental health than commuting by car.

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