As we move from April, Workplace Violence Awareness Month
, to May, Mental Health Month
, I want to reflect on the perceived connection of the two and offer my insight into the reality of the situation, or at least one side of it, given that it’s an extraordinarily complex issue.
In her article “How to Stop Violence: Mentally Ill People Aren’t Killers. Angry People Are,”
Laura Hayes reflects on her belief that uncontrolled anger is really the cause of the violent situations we’re hearing more and more about. She cites several references showing that it’s not in fact individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues who perpetrate the majority of our nation’s violent crimes, but those without the ability to regulate their anger and their responses to it.
I have long held onto Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words that "violence is the language of the unheard."
As people become angry or frustrated we see that. But what do we do with that information? How often do we internally note it, but “do” nothing?
I think back to the many times in my life (because it happens to all of us) when I have felt unheard. “How could this person not get how frustrated and angry I am?” “Why aren’t they doing anything to be helpful?”
The realization that the other person just isn’t getting it,
or that the approach they’re taking isn't working, or the fact that their reaction isn’t helping the situation . . . all this only breeds more frustration and anger.
The other premise that resonates with me is that “all behavior is communication.”
I think we can all relate to this. If I’m happy and I smile at you, I’m communicating my happy mood, and my delight in seeing you. If I’m upset or frustrated, I often don’t have to tell you that, do I? You see it in me—
in my facial expressions; in my body posture and movement. Maybe I have the verbal and cognitive skills to express it; maybe I don’t, but it’s not a secret to you.
When we look deeper at the behaviors demonstrated by the individuals who are in our care, the behaviors—both desirable and undesirable—are often about getting basic needs met.
Does that snarky remark really mean “I’m lonely”? Does that physical push or shove really mean “Help me—
I’m scared”? Is that pacing you see really someone saying “Don’t let it get to you—
try to calm down. D
on’t let it get to you—
try to calm down” as they attempt to control their anger?
And so, as we go from National Workplace Violence Awareness Month to Mental Health Month, let’s all take this challenge:
If violence is the language of the unheard and all behavior is communication, let us all hear each other when we are simply anxious.
Let us take a supportive approach early in the potential crisis moment to try to understand the anxiety and meet the basic need so the individuals in our care do not need to use violent behavior to communicate with us.
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