While I am encouraged by attempts to stem the tide of the epidemic of gun violence in America, and welcome a vigorous conversation about how to support and provide resources for people struggling with mental illness in this country, I am horrified to near-speechlessness by the mental health provisions of the recent gun control legislation passed in New York State.
Senate 2230/Assembly 2388, passed by the NYS Senate and Assembly and signed by Governor Cuomo on January 14th and 15th, includes a provision that requires mandatory reporting by health care professionals — including therapists, nurses, psychiatrists and social workers — of any person who reports thinking about harming themselves or others.
Additionally, implementing this act would require that these individuals be included in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and that law enforcement be authorized to enter the homes of people reported by health care professionals to search for and confiscate weapons.
Read it for yourself:
9.46 Reports of substantial risk or threat of harm by mental health professionals.
(B) …WHEN A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL CURRENTLY PROVIDING TREATMENT SERVICES TO A PERSON DETERMINES, IN THE EXERCISE OF REASONABLE PROFESSIONAL JUDGMENT, THAT SUCH PERSON IS LIKELY TO ENGAGE IN CONDUCT THAT WOULD RESULT IN SERIOUS HARM TO SELF OR OTHERS, HE OR SHE SHALL BE REQUIRED TO REPORT, AS SOON AS PRACTICABLE, TO THE DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY SERVICES, OR THE DIRECTOR’S DESIGNEE, WHO SHALL REPORT TO THE DIVISION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE SERVICES WHENEVER HE OR SHE AGREES THAT THE PERSON IS LIKELY TO ENGAGE IN SUCH CONDUCT.
The threat of being listed in the mental health equivalent of a sex offender registry and having your home invaded by police will clearly deter people from seeking appropriate care, will further victimize and stigmatize those who struggle with mental health issues, and is a hateful and deeply ignorant act of blatant discrimination.
The law does not give mental health professionals the option or the responsibility to report patients who they believe genuinely pose a threat to themselves or others; that ability and responsibility is already legally codified in inpatient treatment laws in all fifty states. Those laws require that mental health professionals get people who pose a threat to themselves or others in to care.
The new NYS law, instead, mandates that mental health providers report all individuals who think about harming themselves or others to law enforcement and the FBI. It is worth repeating: this is a mandatory reporting law that treats people struggling with mental illness as potential criminals, not as patients, citizens, or human beings.
S. 2230/A. 2388 is only possible in a country that believes that people struggling with routine mental health conditions are, in fact, inhuman and patently dangerous deviants who do not deserve human rights, respect, or empathy.
You can hear more about Cuomo’s worst idea yet on the website for the Brian Lehrer show. You can read a particularly compelling response from the mental health advocacy community — and support their efforts — at the website for the Mental Health Association in New York State.