When the world descends on Salt Lake City next month for the Winter Olympics, mental health workers will be available around the clock, thanks to the efforts of Utah psychologists, APA's Disaster Response Network (DRN) and the American Red Cross.

For the last two years, the DRN and the Utah Psychological Association have been collaborating with other mental health groups as well as local, state, federal and Olympic agencies to create an action plan for the 2002 games.

"Because of past Olympic experiences and the recent terrorist events, we wanted to be prepared for any kind of act that might require a mental health response," explains Richard Heaps, PhD, president-elect of the Utah Psychological Association (UPA) and Utah state's DRN coordinator.

To prepare for the games, Heaps and UPA created a state Disaster Response Committee to form a disaster mental health response plan for the games. The committee, co-chaired by Heaps and Salt Lake City psychologist Kay Koellner, PhD, is working closely with the Red Cross and APA, and with an array of other organizations with a stake in disaster response during the Olympics. These groups include the state's Critical Incident Stress Management team, the Department of Veterans Affairs in Salt Lake City, local universities, community mental health centers, the State Division of Mental Health, the U.S. Attorney's Victims' Assistance coordinator for Utah, local police and Intermountain Health Care, which will be the health services provider in all Olympic venues.

"What we are discovering is that all of the groups really have quite complementary roles and this has really fostered the beginnings of some good working relationships--not just for the Olympics, but for the future," says Heaps.

Part of the group's plan includes scheduling shifts of DRN volunteer psychologists at Red Cross first aid stations and shelters throughout the entire games.

"Our intent is that we would have DRN psychologists on site as first responders and coordinators if something happens because the chaos and the traffic congestion would prohibit other volunteers from getting there quickly," explains Heaps.

To ensure that there are plenty of mental health professionals available to fill each slot during the Olympics, the Utah DRN Committee is recruiting additional volunteer mental health professionals. The committee is collaborating with the Red Cross and UPA to provide the disaster response training required to volunteer. They are also giving psychology graduate students a chance to volunteer at the Olympics under the supervision of a licensed professional.

"It's a great opportunity for students to get involved in the process as well as for licensed psychologists to model volunteering in the community--something that gets lost in the shuffle sometimes when you're in graduate school or starting a practice," says Koellner.

Further Reading

Volunteer at the 2002 Winter Olympics
For more information, contact Utah DRN Committee co-chair Richard Heaps, PhD, through the Utah Psychological Association, (801) 359-5646; email; Web site.