Tommy G. Thompson
Secretary Of Health and Human Services
Mental Health Summit, New York City, N.Y.
November 14, 2001
<Read It On The SAMHSA Website>
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
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.
have passed since that terrible day, September 11, and reports about anthrax
and our military efforts in Afghanistan now dominate the news and the
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.
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
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
we saw on September 11 only strengthens our resolve to gain justice for the
fallen, and destroy terrorism wherever it is found.
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.
response from your governors and other leaders, as reflected by your
presence, shows a deep appreciation of the importance in dealing with these
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.
is a critical mission for the American people to care
for people's mental health needs in the face of disaster.
Secretary Of Health and Human Services
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.
important issues arose that we needed to assess, questions we needed to
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.
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.
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.
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.
all across America, your experiences are different, and the resources you
have available to you vary from state to state.
well versed in responding to hurricanes, and midwestern states have dealt
with floods, tornadoes and blizzards. California devotes major resources to
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.
majority of the American public does not spend every waking hour wrestling
with military strategy or political decisions - and that's good.
Americans understand what we are up against, and they are responding with
strength and unity.
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
health support must be an integral part of emergency preparedness and our
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
We will build
on cooperative efforts that already exist. We do not start at square one.
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
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
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
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.
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.'"
immigrant populations with their own languages and cultures, churches are a
trusted source for many services, including counseling.
earlier about the long-term effects of these terrible events.
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
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.
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.
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.
winning that battle.
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."
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.
longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer had a wise thought, expressed in words
that resonate today. Hoffer said, "Compassion is the antitoxin of the
In all of you
here today, I see the great compassion that will protect us as a people and
Thank you so