Reporting Potentially Violent Patients Is Not Going To Curb Gun Violence, Mental Health Professionals Say

A recent article released in NPR argues that requiring mental health professionals to report potentially violent patients isn’t likely to prevent shootings. This is according to the views of a number of psychologists and psychiatrists.

In response to the new gun law passed in New York on January 15th, some mental health professionals are claiming that reporting patients with a tenancy toward violence is not going to help resolve gun violence issues. The claim suggests the new implementation is unlikely to work because assessing the true risk of potential violent behavior is difficult and is not something most mental health professionals are trained to do.

The new law requires mental health professionals to report all patients they consider likely to embark on violent activities or do harm. The law also provides police, and other law enforcement officials, the right to remove guns from people reported as being potentially violent by mental health officials.

The image shows a gun in a red circle with a line through it.

Mental health professionals claim reporting potentially violent patients is unlikely to prevent shootings. Image credited to INVERTED.

Psychologists and psychiatrists claim the new law could help to prevent some instances of gun violence, but other alternatives should also be considered. These include reducing the total number of guns and providing better access to mental health care, according to Barry Rosenfeld, a professor of psychology at Fordham University.

According to a study published in Psychiatry Services, experienced psychiatrists wrongly predicted which patients would become violent 30% of the time. This is an exceptionally high rate of error.

Steven Hoge, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, stated the reason even the most experienced psychologists wrongly predict which patients could pose a potential risk of violence; is that there are only a few signs in which to assess which patients with a history of mental illness are likely to commit violent acts. These include a history of prior violent activity and a current threat to commit violent acts. If a patient does not exhibit either of these, Hoge says “an accurate assessment of the likelihood of future violence is virtually impossible.”

Hoge continues to state the biggest risk for gun violence is ownership or access to a fire arm. He also claims there is “no evidence that the mentally ill possess guns or commit gun violence at any greater rate than the normal population.”

We will keep you up to date as the debates about gun violence, mental health and fire arm laws continue.

Notes about this mental health article

Written by Victoria Driscoll
Contact Clinically Psyched
Source: NPR press release by Jon Hamilton provided information and inspiration for this article.
Image Source: The image used is credited to INVERTED at Wikimedia Commons. The image is licensed as Public Domain. Feel free to use.
Original Research Cited: Abstract for “The Relationship Between Level of Training and Accuracy of Violence Risk Assessment” by Alan R. Teo, M.D.; Sarah R. Holley, Ph.D.; Mark Leary, M.D.; Dale E. McNiel, Ph.D in Psychiatric Services. Published November 1 2012 doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201200019

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