What is the connection between COVID-19 and violent critical incidents like mass shootings? Here we explore the link and search for solutions to this pressing problem.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in the nation, bringing unprecedented challenges, loss and other stressors to families, workplaces, schools and public institutions everywhere.
Now that the pandemic is winding down and people are returning to work and other normal activities, another problem is arising – a significant uptick in violent critical incidents, including mass shootings in workplaces, public spaces and schools. At least 243 mass shootings have taken place in 2021 as of June 2.
While most people can cope with the pandemic’s resulting stressors, some individuals struggle to a point of hopelessness and despair. Healthcare professionals have warned of a follow-up to the pandemic that will include mental health challenges that may lead to violence. In fact, according to the United Nations, the pandemic “has the seeds of a major mental health crisis” that calls for a substantial investment in support services.
Although mental health challenges alone do not lead directly to violence, as historical data indicates, there is a strong connection between stress and violence. Adding significant stressors and/or substance abuse (all of which are on the rise due to COVID-19) can certainly create a “perfect storm” for the onset of violent critical incidents.
The following are some observable signs that indicate someone may be struggling with stress and potentially heading down a path of violence:
- Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
- Unexplained absenteeism or decline in job or school performance
- Depression, withdrawal or suicidal comments
- Resistance to changes at work or school
- Persistent complaining about unfair treatment
- Violation of company or school policies
- Inappropriate emotional response
Once we know some of the warning signs that may lead to violence, what next? According to a recent report from the U.S. Secret Service on mass attacks in public spaces, the most effective way to prevent violent critical incidents demands a community-oriented approach.
“Although law enforcement agencies play a central role in preventing targeted violence, they must be joined by government officials and policy makers, mental health providers, employers, schools, houses of worship, and the general public, all of whom have a role to play in keeping our communities safe,” the report states.
Communities must empower people to report concerning behaviors to law enforcement or, if in a school setting, to administrators and/or trained behavioral threat assessment teams. Providing an anonymous platform (dedicated phone line, email address, or encrypted web page) through which individuals can report tips not only enables communities, workplaces and schools to identify behaviors they may otherwise miss; it also builds confidence that leaders take safety seriously.
Once concerning behaviors are identified, only then can they be assessed to determine whether they warrant further action, and if so, what kind. A “multidisciplinary threat assessment approach to violence prevention” can help thwart violent critical incidents before they take place, the Secret Service report states, adding that threat assessment procedures should be implemented in schools and workplaces as part of a holistic, proactive approach to safety.
Hope on the Horizon
The stressors of COVID will remain part of most people’s lives for at least the foreseeable future. The good news is there are signs individuals exhibit when they’re experiencing an inability to cope with stress. Knowing these warning signs and how to report them to school, workplace and other leaders will help communities take a proactive stance in preventing violent critical incidents – and get help to those who need it most.
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