Opening Remarks of
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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
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.
has been edited by Terence T. Gorski
to summarize the major themes presented.
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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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
no longer are thinking about personal convenience; Instead, we're thinking
about personal safety.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
must be those first> voices of safety, security, and hope.
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
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
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
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
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.