Responding to Terrorism: Recovery, Resilience, Readiness (Part 2)
In a culture ambivalent about violence and focused on immediate
gratification, Americans often have unrealistic expectations of
how long healing will take and what their Government, leaders, and
individuals can do to help, Brian Flynn, Ed.D., of CMHS told conference
Public health models for disaster response and recovery provide
opportunities to reinvent community mental health, according to
Dr. Flynn. But with an enemy whose goal is to terrorize the whole
country, he believes the Nation needs a new public health model
that deals quickly with localized events while reaching out to the
whole population and monitoring the potential spread of such threats
as bioterrorism. "Anthrax isn't contagious. Fear is!" Dr. Flynn
Despite the imperative to focus on all the victims of terror,
both direct and indirect, it's just as important not to assume mental
disorder where it doesn't exist, or "overpathologize," said Dr.
Flynn. "While there is a huge need for healing after a terrorist
attack, the greater story is resilience, hope, and health."
Meredith Alden, M.D., Ph.D., director of residency training in
the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Utah and a SAMHSA
National Advisory Council member, pointed out that in addition to
the post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from terrorist acts,
"substance abuse is very often an outcome of that also." She recommended
"increasing service capacity for people with both substance abuse
and mental illness."
In the face of terrorism and possible threats of more to come,
Americans have found unexpected sources of resilience, especially
in their communities, their faiths, and their families.
For all the stresses on emergency workers, the support of community
is essential to their resilience.
"No one puts out a fire by himself. People work in teams.
They take care of each other," said Malachy Corrigan, director
of the New York Fire Department's Counseling Unit. The fire
department not only serves the community, it is its own community.
With 343 of their own lost in the World Trade Center disaster,
firefighters reached out with characteristic compassion to survivors
in 61 firehouses who lost colleagues, 800 children who lost fathers,
and 270 women whose husbands and significant others died in the
attack. Today, fire department counselors work with surviving spouses,
parents, and siblings at several locations around the city.
In the close-knit family culture of firefighters, many emotional
issues are worked out around the kitchen table in the firehouse,
where members spend much of their time. The department is sending
nearly 30 counselors to the firehouses to offer bereavement sessions
and private counseling.
"There was a great public outpouring of support for firefighters
after 9-11," Mr. Corrigan said. "So firehouses uncharacteristically
kept their doors open. They didn't want to close people out,
but they needed to be grieving. Eventually, we had to tell them
to close the door and go back to the kitchen. They needed the rituals
and support of the firehouse family," and the resilience it
provides day in and day out.
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