May is Mental Health Awareness Month
The month of May has long been recognized as a month of awareness for mental health in the United States. Mental health does not simply address diagnosed disease or illness. It also encompasses well-being and emotional stability.
The stress experienced during the last two years of pandemic restrictions has left many mental health issues in its wake. The negative toll taken on mental well-being has been substantial due to isolation, uncertainty, and financial setbacks. For school-aged kids, the lack of social interaction and added learning losses are only compounding the stress and mental health concerns. All of this is adding up to an alarming increase in violent behaviors, especially in schools.
When Mental Health Concerns Lead to Violence
When stress becomes overwhelming and prolonged, the risks of mental health problems increase. Furthermore, long-term stress increases the risk of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, sleep deprivation, pain, and bodily complaints such as muscle tension. The past two years have impacted the stress load more than anyone could have predicted.
The mounting stress resulting in increased mental health issues has created the perfect storm. Now more than ever schools and organizations must be diligent in developing a comprehensive threat assessment protocol. There MUST be a greater focus placed on mental health and some of the warning signs that could be a precursor to violence, including an active shooter event.
Recent workplace violence statistics state;
- 5 million assaults happen in the workplace each year.
- Assaults at work are the second leading cause of death in the workplace.
- Bullying is officially recognized as workplace violence.
- Violent incidents cost business organizations up to $130 billion per year.
- 28% of sexual violence cases happen in the accommodation, food, and retail industries.
- 80% of emergency physicians say workplace violence impacts the quality of care.
In 2019 the U.S. Secret Service published the Analysis of Targeted School Violence. As part of the study, the Secret Service looked at 41 school attacks. Of the 41 attacks, 23 of them were communicated directly (through social media, emails, statements made, artwork, etc.) to someone within two weeks of the attack. This means that 66% of the attacks could have been stopped if someone had just listened or recognized the signs. In many instances, a co-worker, student, or friend is screaming for help and we are missing it. The average person does not wake up in the morning and set out to harm others, so behaviors that model this mindset should not be ignored. Although the Secret Service report was published in 2019, we have seen the same statistics continue to play out in recent violent events, like the Oxford Michigan active shooter incident.
Ten Common Themes of Concerning Behavior
ASR has put together a list of ten common themes regarding concerning behavior to help you identify if there might be underlying issues with the people you interact with on a regular basis. Oftentimes we encounter situations where something doesn't seem right with someone. "Our hackles are up" and we begin an internal dialogue with ourselves regarding the experience. It is in these moments that we can tune in and recognize that our instincts may have merit.
Pay Attention and Assess if You Notice:
- Threats to a specific target or others in general, and/or intent to attack,
- Intense or escalating anger,
- Sudden and unusual interest in weapons,
- Sadness, depression, or isolation behaviors,
- Changes in regular behavior or appearance,
- Talk of suicide and/or self-harm,
- Interest in violence,
- Talk of being bullied,
- Concerns over grades/attendance/quality of work,
- Someone harassing others.
People that show these themes in behavior are not necessarily going to commit a violent act. However, do not accept a change in behavior as “just having a bad day”. In over three-quarters of workplace and school shootings, the attacker tried reaching out to a trusted friend, teacher, family member, or coworker. Key indicators were missed or ignored which led to a tragic ending.
Creating a Targeted Violence Prevention Plan
It is critical that leaders assess their organization's threat assessment protocol(s). Below we have given you eight steps to help in the process.
The eight steps to creating a Targeted Violence Prevention Plan:
- Step 1 – Establish a multidisciplinary threat assessment team.
- Step 2 - Define concerning behaviors.
- Step 3 - Establish and provide training on a central reporting system.
- Step 4 – Determine the threshold for law enforcement intervention.
- Step 5 – Establish threat assessment procedures.
- Step 6 – Develop risk management options.
- Step 7 – Create and promote a safe school or business climate.
- Step 8 – Provide training for all stakeholders.
“We had no idea there was an issue with him/her.”
This is a common statement made in the aftermath of a violent attack. Unfortunately, there are generally many signs leading up to an attack that are being missed or ignored. Furthermore, the majority of schools and businesses around the country do not have a formal threat assessment protocol in place.
Schools and organizations must begin to refocus their thinking and pivot from a reactive stance to a proactive one. Mitigating mental health concerns before an attack is vital.
We are missing the pain and anger that many people are experiencing today. It is easier to turn a blind eye than it is to face the true facts. The United States is in the midst of a mental health crisis and we must work to mitigate the rising tensions today. We cannot undo what we experienced during the last two years any more than we can undo a host of other circumstances contributing to the mental health decline across our country. What we can do is take steps to nurture and guide those in need so that we can avoid many of the violent tendencies growing across our communities every day.
If you or someone you know is in immediate need of mental health support, please visit MentalHealth.gov to get started on a path of mental health resilience.
ASR Alert Systems is a patented state-of-the-art critical incident response technology specializing in the field of alert notifications to Law Enforcement and First Responders in the event of an active shooter or other crisis. Our technology can be customized to any industry, building, or event. We deliver customer-specific technology unmatched by anyone. ASR Alert Systems prides itself on providing ADA-compliant technologies to make safety accessible to all.
To learn more about ASR's Vulnerability and Risk Assessments, CLICK HERE.
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