Feature

The federal government is not only preparing the nation for the physical repercussions of a possible bioterrorism attack, but also looking at the psychological impact. A new bioterrorism law provides $4.6 billion to help prepare for a bioterrorism attack, including some funding for mental health disaster response.

President George W. Bush signed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act into law June 12. It allocates $1.6 billion in grants to help states improve response in bioterrorism and other public health emergencies. A portion of that money would fund more counseling and training in disaster response.

The funding "shows how far we have come in society in recognizing the importance of psychological factors," says Ronald F. Levant, EdD, chair of the APA's Task Force on Promoting Resilience in Response to Terrorism. "Congress has recognized that bioterrorism is a threat that not only creates physical effects, but psychological effects as well."

The new law addresses mental health in the following areas:

  • The creation of a National Advisory Committee on Children and Terrorism within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which will focus on children's response to bioterrorism.

  • Improved strategies by the Department of Veterans Affairs for providing mental health counseling in times of disasters, such as providing counseling to emergency response providers.

  • Inclusion of behavioral psychology experts within the Emergency Public Information and Communications Advisory Committee.

  • Availability of educational grants to public and nonprofit private health or educational organizations and programs in fields where there is a shortage of health professionals trained to respond to bioterrorism or other emergencies.

  • Creation of a registration system for health professionals who volunteer during health-care emergencies, which will verify credentials, licenses, accreditations and hospital privileges.

"It is important that all those on the front line of dealing with consequences of a bioterrorist attack receive the resources and training they need. This is important not only in dealing with the physical impact of such an attack, but also the psychological toll an attack can have on the public and caregivers themselves," according to an APA statement by Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA's executive director for professional practice.

Meanwhile, APA's Task Force on Promoting Resilience in Response to Terrorism is looking at the range of coping responses among individuals. "We want to look at this from multiple perspectives since our society is so diverse," Levant says. "Some people prefer to get their support from places of worship or the community, while others prefer a stress management program."

The group is also exploring how resilience is built following comparable events, such as natural disasters or terrorism in other countries, such as Northern Ireland or Israel.

--M. DITTMANN