Here in the Boston area, there’s been a tragic story of domestic violence leading to death. The 70 year old father of celebrated Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan, Daniel Kerrigan died after an altercation with his adult son, Mark Kerrigan. The senior Kerrigan was found bleeding and unconscious on the kitchen floor of his home, passing away a few hours after being brought the hospital. According to police reports, his combative and intoxicated son Mark had to be forcibly removed from the basement of the home. He has been charged with assault, although further charges could ensue after an autopsy.

Mark Kerrigan is a veteran who has battled substance abuse and behavioral issues over the span of many years. He had been jailed numerous times for violent incidents, including assault on his ex-wife, Janet Kerrigan, who had told police that “Mark made statements that he was going to kill himself, if not by himself then by the cops.”

In a series of video interviews with local station NECN, Janet Kerrigan talks of her ordeal as a victim of domestic violence, as well as the elder Kerrigan’s attempts to help and support his son. She is frank in her assessment that his family was in denial about his problems and that the family did not believe or support her.
In a followup story, Boston Globe reporters Peter Schworm and Milton Valencia talk about the dilemma that families face in coping with adult children who have behavioral and substance abuse problems.

These weighty family issues are ones that surface every day among our clients’ employees. While many people think that EAPs are for people who are experiencing their own substance abuse or mental health issue, we probably see or talk to almost as many people who are debilitated from coping with the effects of a family member’s substance abuse, depression, or mental illness, or who are weighed down by the terrible burden of domestic violence. As Janet Kerrigan’s interviews depict, such problems can be stressful and terrifying in the extreme. These are problems that can often tear families and lives apart. It can be very difficult for family members to know where the line is between support and enabling, the appropriate balance between love and tough love. The natural tendency – particularly for parents – is to protect and support their children, but the wrong type of support can actually help perpetuate a problem. There are no easy answers.

Our employer clients are often made aware of a terrible family issue by a change in employee behavior. A formerly conscientious employee suddenly has frequent absences and a change in demeanor: Anxious, distracted, stressed, moody, withdrawn. When spotting a change in productivity or work behavior, we recommend that employers don’t try to diagnose the problem, simply to address the change in performance and refer the employee to resources for help – preferably to an EAP or other trusted resource. But we also encourage employers to offer help in other ways: as part of an ongoing wellness and HR communication effort, include information about community mental health resources in a newsletter; keep a list of helpful links on the company intranet; and invite representatives from various mental health support services to the annual health fair.



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