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Special Focus:  Mental Health, Substance Abuse, & Terrorism

Summit MHSAT - Tommy Thompson Keynote

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Published On: November 14, 2001          Posted On: December 29, 2001

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A National SummitWhen Terror Strikes: 
Responding to the Nation's Mental Health and Substance Abuse Needs:

Strengthening the Homeland through Recovery, Resilience, and Readiness

Hilton New York and Towers
New York City, New York
 November 14-16, 2001

Keynote Address By
Tommy G. Thompson
Secretary Of Health and Human Services

National Mental Health Summit, New York City, N.Y.
November 14, 2001

<Read It On The SAMHSA Website>

Good morning, and thank you Charley (Curie). Congratulations on your recent confirmation and swearing in. It took only four months since the president nominated you. By Washington standards, that's almost hasty. We're all very glad you're on board.

I appreciate your willingness to bring your experience, knowledge and strong commitment to public service and mental health to the Department of Health and Human Services. You have my thanks and best wishes.

Two months have passed since that terrible day, September 11, and reports about anthrax and our military efforts in Afghanistan now dominate the news and the public's thoughts.

But as time moves on, let us keep with us the memories of those who lost their lives on September 11 . our friends, family members and fellow citizens killed at the hands of a monstrous evil.

We must always pay honor to their lives, and to the heroism of so many rescue personnel who sacrificed and died while trying to save others.

In the words of Scripture, "There is no greater love, than that of a man who would lay down his life for his friends." We saw that kind of love in action on September 11.

So I think it would be appropriate to pause for a moment of silence before starting the day's discussions, and to hold the victims in our hearts, thoughts and prayers.

And as we do so, let us also remember those who died in Monday's terrible plane crash only a few miles from here, and keep their grieving family and friends in our minds.

Thank you.

The heroism we saw on September 11 only strengthens our resolve to gain justice for the fallen, and destroy terrorism wherever it is found.

We are fulfilling the words of Winston Churchill, who said during the early days of World War Two, "We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival."

We have come to know that heart of suffering. But we also know the heart of compassion. And from it, we are drawing our inspiration and our hope.

I am very pleased to join you today as you discuss your experiences and insights about caring for people's mental health needs in the face of disaster. More than 40 states are represented here today.

The wonderful response from your governors and other leaders, as reflected by your presence, shows a deep appreciation of the importance in dealing with these issues.

It is a critical mission for the American people, and you in the states and private organizations will be on the front lines, delivering the services, helping those who struggle after terrorist attacks or other emergencies.

It is a critical mission for the American people to care for people's mental health needs in the face of disaster.

Tommy G. Thompson
Secretary Of Health and Human Services

Your challenge is made so much greater by the extent of evil and destruction that accompanied the recent terrorism, and then greater again by the continuing onslaught of new uncertainties.

In the days after September 11, it occurred to me that these unprecedented challenges provided an opportunity to determine if HHS was doing things right, and what we could to improve.

Many, many important issues arose that we needed to assess, questions we needed to answer.

    The adequacy of our short-term response - the successes and shortcomings.

    How that short-term response should be followed up by long-term activities.

    The availability of resources at the federal, state and local level.

    And whether HHS and SAMHSA were doing all we could to cooperate with and support all of you - the first responders, the state and local mental health professionals, the private organizations, the faith-based charities . everyone who delivers mental health and substance abuse services in this difficult time of need.

Rest assured: I know - and the American public knows - that without your work and your compassion, there would be a great deal more suffering in our land today.

And your contributions will be required for years into the future. Yes, the psychological consequences of a disaster generally fade with time. People do heal.

But we know that the anguish that accompanied September 11 will stay with some people for a long time, sometimes recalled by anniversaries, or a scene on a TV screen, or even renewed by another new attack of terrorism.

As we look to the future, it is obvious we must address the issues I mentioned in a comprehensive way, involving all your agencies and organizations.

For that reason, I asked SAMHSA to arrange today's national summit on mental health and substance abuse to bring together everyone involved in the post-attack efforts and who might deal with similar, future events.

Coming from all across America, your experiences are different, and the resources you have available to you vary from state to state.

Florida is well versed in responding to hurricanes, and midwestern states have dealt with floods, tornadoes and blizzards. California devotes major resources to earthquake preparedness.

Your perspectives differ, too. Those of us who spend time inside the Beltway must remember that the rest of America is not saturated with news updates, speculating pundits and frightening rumors.

The vast majority of the American public does not spend every waking hour wrestling with military strategy or political decisions - and that's good.

But all Americans understand what we are up against, and they are responding with strength and unity.

As President Bush put it last week in his address to the nation, "The enormity of this tragedy has caused many Americans to focus on the things that have not changed - the things that matter most in life: our faith, our love for family and friends, our commitment to our country and to our freedoms and to our principles."

In your work, you also have put your energies into a fundamental thing: helping your fellow man and woman.

One fact has become abundantly clear to us in the wake of September 11. Mental health support must be an integral part of emergency preparedness and our public-health infrastructure.

Mental health support must be an integral part of emergency preparedness and our public-health infrastructure

Tommy G. Thompson
Secretary Of Health and Human Services

In a way, it's like civil defense of the 50s and 60s - planning ahead and marshaling the resources so we are ready in case of disaster or cruel act of war. In today's world, with its new threats of terrorism, access to mental health services can be more important than having a bomb shelter to retreat to.

That is why Health and Human Services will work with each of the states and governors to include mental health and substance abuse services in your respective emergency management plans.

For many of you, this will involve a lot of work and re-evaluation, the willingness to look beyond various agencies' lines of authorities in order to build new partnerships.

We will build on cooperative efforts that already exist. We do not start at square one.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and SAMHSA's center for mental health services work together on the crisis counseling assistance and training program, which provides grants to states for mental health services, consultation and education.

Please be sure of one thing: we are not in the business of dictating to you how to do your business. In organizing this summit, SAMHSA brought together people from state agencies and charitable groups to develop the agenda and focus on the most productive issues. We worked together, because the states have much to offer.

For example, state mental health experts are likely to have more experience in reaching out to local ethnic groups, who may have their own distinct cultural approaches toward dealing with disaster and the grieving process.

In this area - and many others - we will also look to charities and faith-based organizations.

I am pleased that a workshop is devoted to the work of these groups, who bring incredible knowledge and compassion to bear.

We know that many people turn first to faith and places of worship for comfort and courage in difficult times.

They understand what President Abraham Lincoln meant when he said, 'I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.'"

And, for immigrant populations with their own languages and cultures, churches are a trusted source for many services, including counseling.

I spoke earlier about the long-term effects of these terrible events.

And during the next two days, I would encourage all of you to keep in mind that we are working not just for today or tomorrow, but for five or ten years into the future.  Whether it's post-traumatic stress disorder, long-lasting anxiety, or drug and alcohol abuse, many people will find themselves dealing with the aftermath of a disaster for months and years.

Our experiences in Oklahoma City and elsewhere tell us that first responders may be reluctant to seek help in the immediate aftermath of a disaster or terrorist attack. They may wait three years or more.  It is important that appropriate mental-health services be available to them in the first days of the emergency, but also on a long-term basis.

This is not to minimize the critical importance of immediate services, of course. The need for mental-health services after a disaster does decrease over time, but it decreases more rapidly if you have good, capable intervention programs available to people from the very beginning.  And, all of you can help us figure out how those services should be re-examined or modified in light of the new world we now live in.

America is coming to grips with a changed world, one where terrorism has cruelly taken the lives of 5,000 of our fellow citizens, and where the the anxieties return with every new report of anthrax, or a threat from abroad, or police car speeding down the road.

We must remember that the terrorists' goal is to terrify. The attacks killed our people and destroyed our buildings, but it is the terror the killers rely upon to wreck our economy, destabilize our government and weaken our national resolve.  We can defeat them through bravely going about the business of ordinary life. Our part of the battle being fought against terrorism is the battle against fear.  If we find ourselves contributing to the world and taking control of our lives, we strike a blow against that fear.

We are winning that battle.

President Bush put it well last week in Atlanta. He said, "There is a difference between being alert and being intimidated, and this great nation will never be intimidated. People are going about their daily lives, working and shopping and playing, worshiping at churches and synagogues and mosques, going to movies and to baseball games. Life in America is going forward and that is the ultimate repudiation of terrorism."

With your help, we will deliver that ultimate repudiation.

Finally, as I close, let me add one thing. Please take care of yourselves. I have seen many times when people in the caring professions become so intent on helping others, that they let their own needs go ignored. Reach out to one another, and help a friend or colleague if you see they need help. And thank you for all that you have done and are doing for the American people.

The longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer had a wise thought, expressed in words that resonate today. Hoffer said, "Compassion is the antitoxin of the soul."

In all of you here today, I see the great compassion that will protect us as a people and a nation.

Thank you so very much.

 

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