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Dr. George Vergolias is a trained Forensic Psychologist and Certified Threat Manager, currently serving as Medical Director for R3 Continuum, overseeing all clinical services and leading their Clinical Risk, Threat of Violence and Workplace Violence programs. In honor of Member Appreciation Month, he shares his perspective on the intersection of mental health and security and the value of ASIS membership.

To learn more on the intersection of mental health and security we invite ASIS members to join Dr. Vergolias for a free member-exclusive webinar, “Managing the Fear: Leveraging Emotional Intelligence to Help Fearful Clients Manage Crises” on 16 March.

How can security professionals learn from mental health professionals?

Whereas security professionals are deeply trained in identifying, assessing and mitigating behaviors of concern that may pose a threat to the workplace, they are not often trained on specific hostility management interventions, the impact of mental health issues (when present) or factors that enhance human resilience.

In threat situations when the threat is identified early, there is an opportunity to engage the person of interest (POI) and redirect them to purposeful disengagement – a process by which the POI is redirected away from pursing a violent or damaging behavior towards the organization. Having an understanding of mental health factors can be very useful in these situations, including understanding resilience factors as those are the key components that help mitigate severe behaviors occurring.

What should security professionals be considering regarding mental health in the future?

Most individuals that move on a trajectory of violence or other attempt to sabotage an organization are struggling in their professional and/or personal lives. This does not mean they have a diagnosable mental health condition, but they are struggling emotionally and psychologically nonetheless and have personality issues that impact their maladaptive and dangerous behavior. In other cases, a mental health issues is apparent requiring a specialized understanding.

Security professionals that have training in understanding both personality and mental health issues, and how to engage the proper resources earlier rather than later will be better equipped to successfully mitigate potential threats. Additionally, knowing when to pull in outside mental health experts (specifically forensic mental health) further enhances the mitigation response. For example, there can be significant differences between intervening with a POI who does not have a mental health problem but who is otherwise acting in a dangerous manner, and a POI who has a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or unmanaged bipolar disorder. Methods of engagement, intervention and treatment viability can be vastly different in these cases, thus understanding those differences and when to refer to outside experts is critically important.  

As a mental health professional, what made you interested in joining a security association like ASIS?

My background is in Forensic Psychology, and early career I worked a great deal with court systems on issue of risk around school violence, assessment and mitigation of stalkers and law enforcement consultation. As my career path moved into the corporate sector focusing on threat management, I began to collaborate consistently with corporate security professionals. As a result, it was a natural next step for me to join ASIS, as it is the world’s premier security-based association.

How has being a member helped you in your career and is there anyone you want to thank who has helped you in your member journey?

Yes indeed, my participation in ASIS has opened up a host of both professional development and networking opportunities. Most forensic psychologists are not well trained in sound security principals, thus membership in ASIS has enhanced my exposure and knowledge base in that area. This only improves my work as a threat manager, and allows me to better understand the pain points, expertise and language of security experts when collaborating.

There are a few ASIS members who I would like to thank. Oscar Villanueva, Andy Davis, and Bruce Blythe have all been instrumental in helping me more deeply engage in ASIS, from co-presenting, helping with mentoring initiatives and collaborating on other security and mental health initiatives.