Violence and mental illness

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    Sorry, this is nothing to do with writing, but I’m a bit rattled by events earlier today and I suspect that some of our members may have some useful input.

    Long story short, a previous member of our gym has mental health issues and was at some point under residential treatment for these (I don’t know if this was voluntary or not). Our gym was supportive of him but his pestering and violent behaviour eventually became too much and they banned him about 6 months ago. He was not happy about it.

    Today he burst into the premises, broke down the door of the coffee bar and stormed about the place, ranting and kicking things. The staff on duty were by and large very petite females and he is an extremely fit and strong man.

    They tried to calm him down but every so often he would lose it and go ranting about the place again. Eventually he got into his van and drove away, but the police arrived in the nick of time (pardon the pun) and arrested him.

    The aspect I would really appreciate comments on is what the club staff could have done to make the members feel a bit more protected, because I didn’t feel at all safe. He was engaging with staff and members alike, especially anyone on their feet, and the best policy seemed to be to stay put and ignore him, so I did. However, I did feel the need to put away reading matter and be ready to grab a chair for protection should he have come in my direction.

    I know nothing about dealing with such situations but from my own point of view I would have felt much happier if the male staff in the place had made their presence felt a bit more. Not in a violent way, but just generally being around. Or might that have escalated things? I know it’s hard to comment if you weren’t there to see exactly what was going on. But I am pretty sure he will be back at some point…


    Wow, Bella, that sounds awful. I’m not surprised it has rattled you! Hope you are home safe and recovering with lots of tea.

    Re: what could have been done … I have a mixed record of dealing with stuff like this, but I do think it’s difficult to gauge what response will help de-escalate the situation. Would being confronted by some burly blokes have made the guy even more aggressive – it sounds like that might have been his response. BUt would a unified intervention of several men have made him withdraw? Idk. Either way I’d have thought the club might have been able to move customers into a different space, even if it was the kitchen. And some capable staff placing themselves between that safer place and this man would have been a non-confrontational way for them to safeguard you lot. I dont know. In some places, like bars, staff have training in how to deal with aggression, but I’m not sure a gym would have provided that for their staff. Perhaps they will now!

    I would think you’d be justified in contacting the gym and asking to know what they are going to do differently to ensure customer safety if this were to happen again. Hope you are ok, and glad the police caught him.


    It’s undeniably scary when stuff like that happens, and you have my sympathy. In situations like this, staff training is worth its weight in gold. The trouble is that nobody really knows what to do in this kind of scenario when they are suddenly confronted with it, and can often either freeze up or make things worse. In a previous life I worked for an organisation that developed and delivered conflict resolution training for all NHS staff. It covered a range of things like the best way to recognise the signs that someone is going to become angry or even violent, how to prevent it if at all possible, talking people down from that kind of state, defusing conflict, and also practical measures like making sure you don’t find yourself with a potential threat between you and the only available exit, or within the potential reach of an assailant. Obviously in this case all of the preventative stuff is academic (unless you could argue that it could have been mitigated during earlier contacts) but there are still things that could have been done, and which you can only really think through if you’ve had some prior training or experience. I’d recommand that the gym finds a good conflict resolution training course – as opposed to self defence, which is a different issue – (a one day course should be absolutely fine) and send ALL their public facing staff on it. It will pay dividends.


    Nothing to add to Daed’s and Raine’s wise words except to sympathise Bella. It must have been very frightening.

    Philippa East

    I am so sorry to hear that, Bella. That must have been extremely disturbing and frightening.

    As others have said, I think it is down to the gym to now review their safety policies and how they handled the situation. It sounds like they had done their best in previously banning him, and the fact that he burst in meant no one knew how to handle it.

    Calling the police was certainly a good response. Even if someone has a mental illness, if their behaviour is threatening harm or danger to others, that should still be dealt with accordingly.

    I think trying to remain as inconspicuous as you could and not make any effort to engage or confront him was the best plan.

    This might sound strange, but he was potentially less likely to attack a female person than a male, so having only female staff present may have actually helped to bring about those periods where he temporarily calmed down. However it’s extremely hard to predict, with any one individual, what will fire things up more or deescalate things. However, in general as human beings, when we are angry, confrontation tends to escalate things.

    Again I am so sorry to hear that this happened. I hope the gym can learn from what happened, and I hope the man in question will be able to access suitable help.

    Alan Rain

    It’s fortunate the police arrived in time to arrest him. Someone like that driving a van is a serious accident waiting to happen.


    Thanks all.

    I have since discovered that he was on police bail, having already been arrested a couple of days earlier for public order offences and assaulting a police officer. So he may be incarcerated for now. The gym will know, I expect.

    Philippa – I entirely agree that he was less likely to assault a female than a male, especially since I know the man from when he was a member and in fact he is a local tradesman who did work round our house some years ago before all this flared up. My feeling about the lack of male presence was not that they should necessarily have been the ones trying to de-escalate but a few burly blokes somewhere between him and the people in the coffee shop (many of whom were elderly as they were running classes that appeal to that demographic that day) would have been reassuring to us. Anyway, I will be speaking to the staff to find out what their future plan is.

    Daedalus – thanks for the tip about the conflict resolution course. I will certainly suggest that.


    For anyone who is interested, I spoke to the club about their plans to deal with future incidents. I suggested conflict resolution training, Daeds.

    I was then told that their only plan has been to tell staff they can lock themselves into the office if they feel scared. I hope aeroplane cabin crew will not be following that example and locking themselves into the loos every time a fracas breaks out. Sod the paying customers. A letter is going to the company CEO…


    That seems short-sighted, to put it mildly! It’s good practice for any personnel in public-facing roles to have some kind of conflict resolution training, IMO. I’ve had a quick look online and found some courses (no idea how good they are, I’m afraid) that are as little as two hours and as inexpensive as £25 per person. You’re doing the right thing by continuing to push the point. Tbh they ought to have risk assessments to deal with situations like this – you could try asking to see a copy.


    Ever so late to this, sorry – only just read it.
    My take on it is not to sweat what everyone else could do, but to focus on what *you* can do to protect yourself. To take back the power. You are, after all, the most important person in your world.
    A long time ago I lived in a rough area and was mugged and the guy had a knife. This left me seriously rattled; jittery, angry. I signed up for a self-defence course for women and have to say how truly empowering it was; because I realised – probably for the first time – that you don’t have to be physically enormous, burly, fit and male – there are very simple techniques that will use the assailant’s own strength against them.
    I felt so good going to that class, that one night walking home from it, I approached a short dark alley (to avoid it would have required a serious detour) and saw a man lounging against the wall. I think I saw the glint of a knife. To suddenly stop and hurry back the other way would have shown I was frightened and invite a chase. So instead, heart thumping out of my chest, I marched straight up and past him, looking him full in the face as I did so. I tried to set my own face to say, ‘Just you try it.’ Nothing happened.
    Yes, something did happen. A shift inside me. I didn’t have ‘victim’ stamped across my forehead any more. I felt I’d won. I felt strong; and free at last.
    Point being, that just having the confidence (hope?) that I could deal with it if I had to, meant that I didn’t have to. It was a wonderful feeling. Wonderful. Months of anxiety dripped out of me.
    That was all decades ago. I’ve forgotten nearly everything I learned. Note to self: take another course. Soon.


    Whisks, I agree. Good on you for getting that training. And for myself I would have a go if I really had to. I am not small and I am strong, plus my boxing training means I can get force into a punch. But the club owns a duty of care to its members and I am putting it on notice that even if the first incident came out of the blue they can’t use that excuse twice.

    I also think that training for the staff would give a much higher chance of de-escalating a situation.

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