How Does Mental Health Play Into Gun Control? - ABC5 News Des Moines, IA

How Does Mental Health Play Into Gun Control?

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Jessica Daley


President Obama announced big plans to curb gun violence Wednesday. He called on Congress to act on several issues and signed 23 executive orders. Some of those orders deal with mental health.

Drake University psychology professor Dr. Steven Lancaster is glad mental health issues are coming into focus of the president and every day Americans.

"It think it's absolutely essential."

Two of the executive orders clarify to health care providers that federal law does not prohibit them from asking if guns are in the home or from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement. Lancaster says many already do that.
"Generally the understanding is that if a clinician is going to do what we call a "duty to warn." What that means is there has to be a specific threat toward an identifiable victim," says Lancaster.

Without a specific threat, he says there's not much law enforcement can do even if they do report it.

"You can't hold a person indefinitely because of a mental health diagnosis. That just doesn't make any sense."

Other orders require health insurance to provide mental health benefits, which Lancaster says would remove one barrier to access help.

"We have a number of very good treatments. The question that we always have is how can we get better about getting people in the door?" asks Lancaster.

Another barrier that will take some work is the stigma. He hopes this national conversation will debunk myths and bring the facts to the forefront.

"The vast majority of research shows people with a mental health diagnosis are no more violent than other people, particularly once you account for substance abuse problems."
Another order also clarifies to health officials what mental health services Medicaid must cover.

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