Trustee-at-Large Ann Maloney, M.D., makes a point at last month’s Board of Trustees meeting in Washington, D.C. At left is ECP Trustee-at-Large Keith Young, M.D. See related stories below and on pages 2 and 12.
Last month APA launched the National Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, a joint effort with leading U.S. employers to address the heightened anxieties and stress of their employees following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Lloyd Sederer, M.D., APA’s director of clinical services, described program services and benefits in a presentation to APA’s Board of Trustees in December. "The partnership will provide education about disaster-related stress and trauma to employers and employees at the site most convenient for them, the workplace. The effort will also destigmatize mental symptoms and disorders, enhance the detection of disorders and delivery of mental health services to a very large and visible population, and improve mental health care purchasing decisions by employers," he said.
With support from APA President Richard Harding, M.D., and Norman Clemens, M.D., chair of the Committee on APA/Business Relationships, Sederer, APA Medical Director Steven Mirin, M.D., and other staff members put the partnership together and secured initial funding for the activity in under three months. But, as Sederer told Psychiatric News, the quick response would not have been possible without the preceding year or more of effort developing relationships with corporate leaders under the auspices of the APA business initiative.
Corporate founding members include Constellation Energy, Delta Air Lines, Dow Chemical, DuPont, GlaxoSmithKline, Hughes Electronics, IBP, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and UnumProvident Corporation. Other founding members are the Center for Mental Health Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Association of Manufacturers.
The partnership already has developed an ambitious list of activities and products. A service center located at APA will offer the following:
• Mental health educational materials designed for specific industries and work sites.
• Tool kits to enable employers to screen employees for early signs of stress and mental disorder.
• Materials on "best practices" developed by exemplary employers.
• Research on the effectiveness of new workplace mental health prevention education and intervention strategies.
• A national conference on disaster, terror, trauma, and the workforce.
• A Web site, www.workplacementalhealth.org.
The Washington Post covered the announcement of the partnership in a front-page story in its business section on December 13, 2001. The Post cited a postattack study by the Pew Research Center, which stated that more than half of Americans reported classic symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety, including trouble sleeping and concentrating.
Jody Dean, director of Employee Health Services at Hughes Electronics, told Psychiatric News, "One of our biggest challenges is determining what is normal stress and what requires intervention. Psychiatrists are able to assess patients on a one-to-one basis, but we have a workforce of thousands. Our managers have asked for advice on what to look for and how to intervene when help is needed."
Sederer recognizes the importance of making clinical and research findings understandable to new audiences. "We will need to use language for lay people," he said. "Part of our challenge will be to find better ways of delivering the knowledge that we already have."
According to Dean, APA’s expertise will be particularly important in helping employers and employees sort through the vast amount of material about mental health issues circulated by media outlets in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
She said, "There’s a wealth of information and resources about stress and other issues related to the terrorist attacks, but no quality control. APA will be able to offer a consistent message about what works, based on sound research."
Sederer also thinks APA has a unique role to play in helping employers address the need for mental health services for their employees.
"APA has experts in trauma and disaster psychiatry within its own membership," he said. "We want to reach beyond talking and collaborating only with our mental health colleagues to bring our expertise to the business community and ultimately to the workers of America."
The partnership will be assisted by an advisory council consisting of Spencer Eth, M.D., Harold Koplewicz, M.D., Marguerite Lederberg, M.D., Carol North, M.D., Col. Ann Norwood, Betty Pfefferbaum, M.D., and Robert Ursano, M.D. ▪
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