Terrorism, Disaster Spawn Workplace Mental-Health Program

Compiled By Jill Jusko Mental-health problems take an enormous toll on employees and employers alike -- and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks only raised the anxiety level. Prior to Sept. 11 estimates by mental-health organizations placed the cost to U.S. employers of lost productivity and absenteeism due to mental illness at $21 billion to $70 billion annually. Several professional organizations and U.S. employers now have launched a new initiative to combat the mental-health impact of terrorism, disaster and economic uncertainty in the workplace. Called the National Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, the 14-member organization will provide employers nationwide with a first-response capability -- educational materials, training and other tools to cope with the mental-health fallout associated with major disaster. The services will be offered at no cost. Founding members include the American Psychiatric Assn., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for Mental Health Services, Constellation Energy, Delta Air Lines, Dow Chemical, DuPont, GlaxoSmithKline, Hughes Electronics, IBP, Merrill Lynch, National Assn. of Manufacturers, The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and UnumProvident Corp. The partnership will establish a service center located at the American Psychiatric Assn. in Washington. The center will offer science-based mental-health educational materials tailored to specific industries, training curricula and tool kits to screen for early signs of stress. The organization already is developing materials and expects to be in "operational shape" in the next few months. "The employers in this partnership already have in place extraordinary programs for helping their employees deal with disaster and maintain mental health," says Richard K. Harding, president of the American Psychiatric Assn. "The goal of the partnership is to further hone these 'best practices' and disseminate them to the rest of the employer community." A prime communication channel between the National Partnership for Workplace Mental Health and employers will be the Partnership Web site, www.workplacementalhealth.org. Work is under way to populate the site.

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