Upstate News

March 18, 2002
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

SUNY Upstate publishes community mental health guide on how to confront psychological impact of terrorism

SUNY Upstate Medical University has published a guide on how the mental health community can be better prepared to address the psychological fallout of terrorism.

“Too often, mental health issues and concerns are not addressed in local disaster plans; we’re not as prepared as the life safety and law enforcement communities,” said the guide’s author, Frederick DuFour, director of SUNY Upstate’s Institute for Applied Psychiatry. “We hope this guide will change that by assisting mental health communities in developing a system to address these issues.”

The guide, titled “Facing the Real Enemy: Confronting the Psychological Impact of Terrorism,” discusses terrorism’s influence on mental health while offering suggestions on what community mental health professionals can do to act effectively when terrorism strikes. The document outlines local strategies for organizing a community mental health task force and spotlights interventions and treatments to reduce the emotional impact on terrorism. The guide also offers a quick overview of common mental health problems that may be related to a terrorist attack and contains several sample surveys that municipalities can use to assess their mental health resources for terrorism response.

DuFour said Sept. 11 has put terrorism on the list of important community mental health issues. “It’s reality,” he said. “Terrorism and the threat of terrorist activities are now a part of our daily lives and thus how we respond to the psychological trauma it causes should be included in our mental health plans.”

While the terrorist attacks occurred in Washington, D.C., New York City and Pennsylvania, residents from all parts of the United States displayed some psychological or emotional suffering. Surveys after the attacks found that most Americans (60 percent for men, 70 percent for women) believed they were depressed; one in three adults reported difficulty sleeping and 20 percent of the population was believed to be experiencing acute stress.

“Terrorism is a calculated and deliberate attempt to gain psychological leverage over a population through fear and intimidation and the expectation of future and personally threatening violence, DuFour said. “The psychological fallout of a terrorist attack cannot be underestimated.”

Since its publication last fall, the guide has been widely circulated and various states have expressed an interest in using it to help local mental health communities. The guide is currently used by New York’s Project Liberty, a statewide mental health program created in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. It offers residents one-to-one or group counseling sessions in their local neighborhoods.

The guide will receive international exposure when DuFour accompanies New York state Mental Health Commissioner Jim Stone to Brussels for a presentation April 18 before mental health experts from Europe.

“It’s encouraging to see these discussions take place,” DuFour said. “We simply cannot afford to take these issues lightly anymore.”

To receive a guide, contact the Institute of Applied Psychiatry at SUNY Upstate at 315-464-3195.

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