Workplace Violence

Moderated by Rick Badie

Is your workplace prepared for violence? It’s something that should be pondered, given what seems like a preponderance of such incidents, most recently the on-air slayings of two Virginia TV journalists. Today, a mental health professional who works with employers on safe responses to workplace violence suggests a response plan that takes long-term risks in to consideration. The other essay addresses barriers Latinos face in trying to seek help for mental and substance abuse issues.

Rethink Workplace Violence

By Marc McElhaney

We have witnessed yet again another tragic workplace violence event with the recent deaths of the television reporters. There will be many pundits who will attempt to answer the who, what and why questions — and try to assign blame or attribute this to a specific cause that will allow us to return to work.

The bottom line is human behavior is complex and difficult to predict with precision. And I am stating this as someone who has handled these issues as a threat assessment professional and workplace violence specialist.

Whereas we cannot always precisely predict behavior, we can identify individuals who represent a risk, and organizations can develop a response process that will allow them to safely manage these events before guns are drawn.

The term “workplace violence” has become so frightful, it freezes us into a kind of easy denial. Underlying this inaction are often two incorrect assumptions: that individuals who commit these acts either fit a particular profile, or are so crazed or “evil” that they will be immediately recognizable; and when confronted with this, we will be able to take short-term security action to ensure our safety.

In my practice, we rarely refer to “workplace violence” any more, preferring that our clients focus on what we call “high-risk behavior.” This term can apply to a variety of behaviors that can be of concern, but let’s take three examples: the suicidal individual (virtually all of the more tragic workplace violence events have involved those who were suicidal); the severely mentally ill (I am not implying mental illness automatically results in violence, but many types of mental illness are factors); and domestic abuse, which represents 24 to 35 percent of workplace violence.

Let’s look at the statistics:

— 4.6 percent of the population — approximately 1 in 20 people — report an attempted suicide in their lifetime.

— 5.8 percent are annually diagnosed with a “serious” mental illness.

— 33 percent of women in our country report a history of physical violence by an intimate partner, and 74 percent state some abuse and harassment occurred at work.

So, is it possible you can have individuals in your organization who fall into high-risk categories? How can you not?

The safest response to high-risk behavior is rarely simply walking someone out the door, calling law enforcement or referring employees to a random mental health professional. The company must, in careful consideration and sometimes in consultation with experts, assess the situation well enough to prepare a response plan that considers long-term risks. All too often, one reads about an ex-employee who returns long after termination to enact revenge due to the perception of how he or she was treated.

The good news is every organization can incorporate a systemic, four-step program that is easily implemented and cost-effective, and that will help identify those at risk and establish a responsible and effective response process. Our program involves establishing policy; training an internal threat management team; educating human resources and other critical personnel, and implementing an employee awareness program.

Most importantly, this will require a shift in leadership’s perspective, a “recalibration” from the assumption that high-risk behavior is a random, occasional problem that can rely on a reactive, “security” response. Leadership must recognize this represents a core safety concern that should be addressed as an integral part of doing business to protect your employees and bottom line.

Dr. Marc McElhaney, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Critical Response Associates, is the author of “Aggression in the Workplace: Preventing and Managing High-Risk Behavior.”

Address Latino mental health barriers

By Pierliugi Mancini

Suppose you live in a place where the language, customs, behaviors and schedules are very different from how you were raised. Now imagine you experience emotional trauma due to a car accident, physical or sexual abuse, depression or substance abuse, but you have nowhere to turn for help. The places you would typically go to for treatment don’t speak your language, understand your customs or offer extended business hours. Treatment is critical to save your life, yet you have no access to help. This is a very real situation for many living in the metro Atlanta area.

The Clinic for Education, Treatment and Prevention of Addiction Inc. is a nonprofit organization founded in 1999 to address a growing need for substance abuse and behavioral health services among Georgia’s Latino population.

CETPA’s mission is to provide evidenced-based, culturally and linguistically appropriate substance abuse, mental health counseling and prevention services with priority to the Latino community. It is the first, and still only, Latino agency in Georgia to earn national accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities to provide behavioral health treatment and prevention services in English and/or Spanish.

And CETPA is making a difference.

Our clients have serious mental health and addiction issues; most often, they are uninsured, with no other place to turn for help. Hospitals and other health care providers refer patients to CETPA because they are unable to offer bilingual services. Firsthand patient accounts speak to the effectiveness of the programs, with many saying CETPA saved their lives and held their families together.

Approximately 85 percent of our adult clients are immigrants representing 22 Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil. About 90 percent of our youth are first-generation Latinos born in the United States to at least one immigrant parent. Clients drive from 15 minutes to more than two hours to receive our services, which address issues that range from anxiety and depression to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. We also treat those with alcohol and drug-use disorders.

CETPA’s workforce makes up the largest concentration of bilingual and tri-lingual licensed clinicians in Georgia. We have a team of 24 clinical staff members that includes psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed professional counselors, licensed social workers, certified addiction counselors and paraprofessionals that provide direct clinical services in English, Spanish and Portuguese. We also have six of the eight bilingual certified prevention specialists in the state. During 2014, the clinical team provided 15,804 behavioral health services to about 1,400 unduplicated consumers (671 children and 727 adults) — a 15 percent increase from 2013.

CETPA has three primary programs:

— Direct clinical services provide evaluations and assessments for mental health and substance-use disorders, psychiatric services, psychological services, tele-counseling, play therapy, nursing services, medication management and individual, family and group counseling.

— Intervention services provide recovery support to Latino adolescents struggling with substance abuse, education, legal issues and life challenges by offering tutoring, counseling, life skills and healthy activities. The goal is to help youth become drug free, eliminate involvement with juvenile justice, finish high school and go to college or enter the workforce.

— Prevention services are offered at our five regional locations in Dalton, Carrollton, Valdosta, Savannah and Norcross. Additionally, we offer statewide programs on alcohol abuse, prescription medication abuse and suicide prevention in English and Spanish.

Research indicates it takes three to seven years to master a new language. But when those fluent in English face emotional adversity, even they tend to revert to their original language to accurately describe their situation. Seven years is too long to wait for treatment. It just may be too late.

CETPA is funded through grants and the generosity of the community. For more information, visit

Pierluigi Mancini is CEO of CEPTA (Clinic for Education, Treatment and Prevention of Addiction).

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