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New Gun Laws Focus On Mental Health Patients With Firearms

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TWC News: New Gun Laws Focus On Mental Health Patients With Firearms
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The emphasis in the new gun laws may be on the weapons themselves, but certain provisions are also putting the spotlight on the mentally ill who carry guns. NY1's Arlene Borenstein has the story.

Patricia Woods, director of Psychiatry Services at New York Hospital Queens, said despite the new gun control act voted into law Tuesday, reporting a potentially dangerous patient has long been common practice for mental health professionals.

"We always ask if the patient has any intention of doing harm to himself or to anybody else," Woods said. "If the patient says yes, then we ask 'How would you do that.'"

She says there are ways doctors can find out if mentally ill patients are potentially dangerous, but it is not standard procedure to ask outright whether they carry a gun.

"If the patient doesn’t report it to you, then there is no way to determine whether the patient has a gun," Woods said.

Patient confidentiality is also an issue.

"We encourage our patients to disclose and tell us all of their personal information and then it's very difficult for a mental health professional to then have to turn around and disclose patient information," Woods said.

Woods explains patients do frequently admit to therapists and doctors whether or not they have a gun, and regardless of the new state mandate she says mental health professionals have always had a responsibility to keep both clients and potential victims safe from harm.

"You have a duty to inform the potential victim that the patient is threatening his or her life," Woods said. "You have a duty to inform the potential victim’s family or the police."

The Mental Health Association of New York State says bringing mental illness into the discussion on guns only stigmatizes patients.

"The argument should not be about people with mental illness being violent. It should be about people with mental illness...getting the appropriate services they need in the community," the association said in a statement.

Woods agrees that adequate preventative treatment is important.

"There are many patients out there who need help and they are not getting it," Woods said. "That's another reason why they are out there with weapons that they should not have and why society is at risk."

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