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SAMHSA News - Volume X, No. 3, Summer 2002

Summit Promotes Mental Health in the Workplace

"Employers worry that people with mental illnesses can be disruptive to the workplace, but we are here to say that people with mental illnesses don't conform to the stereotypes," said Bernard S. Arons, M.D., Director of SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) in welcoming participants to a conference this fall on initiatives to support mental health in the workplace.

Titled "Hand in Hand: It's Worth the Investment! A National Summit on Best Practices for Mental Health in the Workplace," the summit was cosponsored by CMHS, the Department of Labor's Presidential Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities, and a coalition of public and private organizations including Johnson & Johnson and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

The summit highlighted not only the value of hiring people with mental disabilities, but also the importance of encouraging mental health in the workplace for all employees.

As SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W., told participants, "Mental health in the workplace represents a true win-win situation for both employees and employers, because employers who focus on mental health in the workplace and the mental health of their employees improve their bottom line."

Leaders from business, government, associations, and health care professions as well as consumers of mental health services shared tools that employers can use to promote hiring of people with psychiatric disabilities, advice about establishing consumer-operated businesses, information on the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Leave Act, and success stories. Researchers also discussed findings from their studies. (See SAMHSA News article, Employment: A Workable Option Despite Mental Illness.)

Featured speakers included Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist and author Art Buchwald, and John F. Nash, Jr., Ph.D., the 1994 Nobel Prize winner in economics and subject of the movie, A Beautiful Mind.

Mr. Buchwald described the public disclosure of his depression and the tremendous support he received. He noted that support—not only from mental health service providers, but also family, friends, and loved ones—is critical for individuals who suffer from depression. He also discussed the problem of stigma, saying "As far as illnesses of the mind, we are still in the dark. I'm trying to get the message out that depression is just another illness."

Dr. Nash said that although he was not officially employed by Princeton University after his hospitalizations, he did have access to computers and other resources at the university. Emphasizing the importance of this to his recovery, he said, "I didn't get official employment, but I got something like 'occupational therapy.' "

Congressional support was expressed by U.S. Representatives Pete Stark (D-CA) and Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), who also addressed participants.

U.S. Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Claude A. Allen, J.D., told participants in closing, "The President's New Freedom Initiative recognizes that more needs to be done to ensure adequate accommodations for people with disabilities. We must remember that wherever a door is closed to anyone because of a disability, we must work to open it. Working together, we can make this happen."

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