ACOEM offers guide for terrorist attack aftermath

Recommendations to deal with employee stress

The Mental Health Committee and the Council on Scientific Affairs of the Washington, DC-based American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) created a resource package and response guidelines for health care professionals who may have to deal with the psychological trauma of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. These may prove valuable not only for those with employees in areas that were directly affected, but for any occupational health professional whose employees have been traumatized by these events.

The guidelines are divided into three parts:

Discussions of pertinent topics:

  • How much stress is expected to follow the events of Sept. 11, 2001?
  • What are the normal reactions to "highly stressful" events?
  • Problematic stress reactions
  • What procedures are available to help coping responses?
  • Critical incident stress management
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Acute stress disorder
  • Associated disorders
  • Three questions often asked by survivors and emergency response team members
  • What are the goals of mental health providers in disaster situations?

Suggested follow-up to events of Sept. 11.

  • Template for a communications statement from corporate medical director or medical consultation to a company
  • How to approach an employee in distress
  • Stress information sheet (Hand-out for employees)
  • Timing of workplace interventions

Additional resources.

  • ACOEM members offer their special expertise (Members only)
  • Critical incident stress and post-traumatic stress
  • Grief support

Several of the topics include template introductory letters to the employees, expressing concern for the victims, their families and all who were affected, and informing employees that resources are available to help them through this difficult time.

Practical, concrete suggestions are offered for dealing with employees – as well as advice for the employees themselves. For example, here are the ACOEM’s recommendations for approaching a person in distress. If you believe a co-worker is experiencing stress symptoms:

  • Ask to speak to the person privately. Do not "point out" symptoms to a person who may be in pain.
  • Ask, "Are you having some difficulties? Do you want to talk about it?" Sharing feelings and encouraging discussion help to establish the normalcy of the responses experienced. Be a good listener, but do not offer unqualified therapy.
  • If you believe the person is having an especially difficult time and may need to discuss feelings with a professional, suggest that he or she contact _____. You may wish to follow up later to see if the person took your advice.
  • If you believe the person is in immediate need of care, you can contact _____ and describe your concerns.

(To view the complete ACOEM guidelines, go to: