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Special Focus:  Mental Health, Substance Abuse, & Terrorism

Summit MHSAT - Opening Remarks By Charles Curie

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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

Opening Remarks of Charles Curie
<Read It On The SAMHSA Website>

Administrator
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The following text the Opening Remarks for the National Summit 
has been edited by Terence T. Gorski 
to summarize the major themes presented.  
<Click here to read the full text>

I'm Charles Curie, Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Somewhere and some time between my nomination this summer and my confirmation by the Senate just two weeks ago - the lives of all Americans changed.

How we conduct our lives; how we look at each other, and how we treat each other altered. The state of our physical, mental and spiritual health has shifted - in small ways for some, larger ways for others. Of course, that somewhere was right here in New York City; and that sometime was just before 9 am on September 11.

On September 11, 2001 the lives of all Americans changed.  How we conduct our lives; how we look at each other, how we treat each other altered. The state of our physical, mental and spiritual health has shifted - in small ways for some, larger ways for others.  The very reality of how we conduct our lives changed - perhaps forever. 

Charles Curie, Director of SAMHSA

On September 11, 2001, the very reality of how we conduct our lives changed - that, too, perhaps forever.  The scope and depth of that change were expressed, just last week in Atlanta by President Bush in his address to the Nation. He captured the ethos of the nation today when he said, " We are a different country than we were on September 10, sadder and less innocent, stronger and more united. "

He is so right. The world around us has always been there - its dangers, its threats. But we were untouched, at a distance. We shrugged and thought to ourselves, "It couldn't happen here."

Since September 11, our perspectives have changed; the lens through which we look at the world around us, at each other, has altered. What we took for granted yesterday, we see with new eyes - perhaps clearer eyes - today. What was commonplace to us yesterday, we think about in new ways today. And that's one of the reasons we deliberately chose to convene this Summit in New York City, not in defiance, but as a tribute to the city's resilience.

Simply put, we have a new definition of what "normal" means, and we're all struggling to wrap our minds around it.

Our sense of safety and well-being has changed. What each of us here today now faces - what the Nation faces -- could not have been imagined before that day. From the pain and psychic dislocation of families and caused by the wanton deaths of over 5,000 innocents to the mother who fears taking her children to the zoo or to a movie, normal, most certainly isn't what it used to be.

We may never reclaim even the simplest aspects of what used to be normal - like being able to carry that Swiss army knife as a smart air traveler. What we need to do - what we're all struggling to do in our work each day since September 11 - is to redefine what we now mean by normal and to find the best ways to feel safe in a changed America.

What we need to do - what we're all struggling to do in our work each day since September 11 - is to redefine what we now mean by normal and to find the best ways to feel safe in a changed America.

Charles Curie, Director of SAMHSA

Redefining America's Sense of Normal

Eight weeks after the events, as individuals, we're still struggling to agree on those definitions, come to terms with them, regain our balance. We no longer are thinking about personal convenience; Instead, we're thinking about personal safety - and the safety of our families, co-workers, communities and the nation as a whole.

We no longer are thinking about personal convenience; Instead, we're thinking about personal safety.

Charles Curie, Director of SAMHSA

As leaders in government - whether national, state or local - or in the faith community, the caring professions, community organizations, we're struggling to attain a somewhat different balance.

We're seeking equilibrium between how much of what we're facing is new and uncharted territory and how much of our past experiences can be instructive today . We're seeking a fine balance between responding to the current incidents and buttressing our national readiness for what the future may hold.

And, particularly in our fields of mental health and substance abuse, we're searching for that fine line that needs to be tread if we are to serve the people with the most serious illnesses for whom our mandate was created, and to reach the people whose mental health is being challenged - perhaps for the first time - by their capacity to adapt to the new reality in America.

What we've discovered in the past eight weeks is that we can be proud of our work at the Federal level, the state level and the local level, to achieve the balance about which I just spoke. We've clearly established that we live in the United States of America, and not in a state of panic.

We can be proud that, with the strong, clear voice of President Bush echoing in our spirits, the American people have refused to allow the paralysis of will called terrorism take over our lives.

We have recognized that while we have declared a war on terrorism that is being waged halfway across the world, each of us is waging our own war on terrorism by refusing to let it change who we are, what we value, and how we conduct our lives.

Each of us is waging our own war on terrorism by refusing to let it change who we are, what we value, and how we conduct our lives.

Charles Curie, Director of SAMHSA

At the same time, those of us working in the mental health and substance abuse fields -with the Secretary of Health and Human Services in the lead - have helped Americans begin to understand that anxiety and stress are healthy reactions to the trauma we have all experienced. We've helped them begin to hear - perhaps for many, for the very first time - that asking for help for depression or anxiety or what is becoming a problem with drugs or alcohol is a sign of health and strength, not personal weakness.

Anxiety and stress are healthy reactions to the trauma we have all experienced.  asking for help for depression or anxiety or what is becoming a problem with drugs or alcohol is a sign of health and strength, not personal weakness.

Charles Curie, Director of SAMHSA

And perhaps for the first time, issues of mental health are on everyone's minds - and will be for a long time.

Given the stigma that made mental health issues the last dark corner of health and illness, it's probably about time! But the scope of the need, the duration of the need are what make our work all the more challenging. We need to have the knowledge, the resources, the endurance and the heart to be in it for the long haul.

We've also found that what we've been doing is a learning experience unparalleled in our history as a nation. We have never been faced with the need to bring people together as we have since September 11. And the mayor of this city - Sir Rudy Giuliani himself - has set the bar high for each of us in that arena.

President Bush has been preparing the nation for the long-term challenges of our declared war on terror. And those of us in this room are doing our part in that effort. We're preparing for the long-term challenge to the mental health of the nation. And we're doing it through our work in Federal, state, and local government, our engagement as a leader of the faith community, our involvement as a community serving organization or as a traditional health care provider organization.

Some of you have experience with disasters - whether natural or man-made. You've helped your citizens through the trauma of earthquake and storm, flood and tornado. Our friends from Oklahoma City, Columbine Colorado, and elsewhere continue to provide us with lessons in helping our citizens through a disaster created by man not by Mother Nature. They have lessons of particular importance to the states and communities most directly affected by the terrorist and anthrax attacks. Their lessons, too, should not be lost on the others of us who have had less experience in this area. That's part of what our time here will be about.

What is important about what we do over the next three days - what we have done since September 11 - is that we're charting new territory, going where we haven't been before. Each step we take is on new land; each picture we see is seen with new eyes; each word we utter is heard with new awareness. And each is part of our own education - the education of our citizens.

Part of what we're learning is what to say, when to say it and how to say it in ways that are truthful, hopeful, and trustworthy. It's called risk communications.

And now, more than ever, our ability to communicate clearly and with vision is crucial to the short-, mid- and long-term effects of the emergency call on 9-11 to the Nation's sense of security and safety - to our overall mental health and well-being.

I've been doing some reading about risk communications and was struck by a singular point: Did you know that the very first things people hear from public officials is critical in shaping how they react not just over days, but over weeks, months, and even years?

That's what makes risk communication so very important; that's why our learning curve in this area needs to be foreshortened radically. And that's why we've been developing a handbook for you for just that purpose.

It's what I like to call "risk communications 101" and a draft of that document is here for each of you to use - beginning today, as we craft our Nation's mental health future in the new realities that confront us all.

Quite simply, you are the voices of safety, security, and hope.

The very first things people hear from public officials is critical in shaping how they react not just over days, but over weeks, months, and even years.  <We must be those first> voices of safety, security, and hope.

Charles Curie, Director of SAMHSA

Look around the room. Each of you represents part of a critical mass in response, in readiness, in recovery, and in resilience. You were selected by your Governor or by your organization as a leader in efforts to ensure and secure strong, effective disaster response capacity. Through your work over the next three days, you will be providing insight and direction about the role of mental health and substance abuse, not only in response, but also in resilience and readiness in the face of man-made disaster.

I thank you for your willingness to come together today to share your experiences, your actions, the current and future challenges you face in your jurisdictions.

It is time away from your immediate work in responding to the changed mental health and substance abuse issues confronting your citizens; but it is time well spent.

The roles of HHS and SAMHSA at this National Summit- and our role over the coming days, weeks and months - are as conveners, partners in the process of recovery, in readiness for tomorrow, and in strengthening our resilience.

And when I talk about resilience, I think particularly about our Nation's children. After all, what we adults may consider even a minor event in the life of a child, is a world event to that child. And September 11 and the days and events that have followed most certainly have not been minor events.

While issues of global and personal safety are on our minds, so, too, are issues of day-to-day family life in this changed world. While we may grasp our children's hands a bit tighter today, our hope for their future remains. After all, they are the future of the Nation.

For that reason, perhaps now, more than ever, they need our guidance. Our responsibility -- the job of everyone in this room and the job of parents and teachers, communities and States - is to help build and sustain their resilience in the face of a changed America. That takes understanding; it takes planning; it takes teamwork; and it takes time. But, looking around this room, I know we've got all of what it takes. And we start today.

Now as a representative of the Federal government - and a new one, at that -- I want to admit to something that isn't often heard in Washington, DC. So let me share this secret with you: We don't have all the answers; we don't have all the money needed to respond to the short or long-term mental health and substance abuse issues that face your jurisdictions. What we do have is the capacity to convene - as we have today.

To that end, over the next few days, we have provided the opportunity to harness the collective wisdom of each of you here today. We encourage you to work within your team, with other teams, and with us to help leverage collective resources, both yours and ours, to their utmost through creative planning and partnership.

Together we can respond to the emerging and ongoing emotional needs of children and adults across the country. We can respond those people most directly affected by the barbaric terror of September 11 - the families of its victims; the heroic rescue, health and hospital workers; residents in the communities.

And together, we can work to ensure recovery, resilience, and readiness in the face of the past reality of terror, and the continuing psychic insults of the continuing threat of still more terrorism. Together, we can, help each American take the terror out of terrorism.

Closing

It has been said that chance favors the prepared mind; and together we are preparing for the chance of what tomorrow brings. In partnership, we can - and we are -- turning anxiety to action across America. Just as our first words following a critical incident set the tone for the future, so, too, does our work. So, let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Thank you.

 

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