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Does NY SAFE Act do more harm than good for mental health?

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Does NY SAFE Act do more harm than good for mental health?
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New York's SAFE Act set the stage for the national debate on gun laws. One of the provisions requires mental health providers to report any person who is likely to harm themselves or others. As our Katie Gibas reports, many experts are worried it will do more harm than good.

NEW YORK STATE -- In the wake of any mass tragedy, like the Newtown shootings, the conversation shifts towards what could have been done to prevent such horror. That question sparked the New York SAFE Act and national executive orders about gun control and mental health.

"The vast majority of violent crimes occur by people without any history of major mental illness," said Dr. Robert Gregory, the Interim Chair of the Upstate Medical University Psychiatry Department.

That's why mental health professionals are concerned about a provision in the New York law that would require them to report patients they think might do harm to themselves or others. Health providers would report to officials and then law enforcement would likely remove any guns from the home.

"It may be a little misdirected. It's probably going to do more harm than good," said Dr. Gregory. "It can be very difficult to predict who is going to be violent towards others or not."

There are already laws in place that allow experts to involuntarily hospitalize dangerous patients. They worry this new mandatory reporting will discourage people from getting the care they need.

"If you have someone who's already very suspicious of the mental health care system and maybe a bit paranoid or a bit angry towards society, these are the people who you most want to get into treatment, who you most want to get help, those people are probably going to be put off by this law and be actually less likely to see a mental health professionally," said Dr. Gregory

Mental health experts say rather than passing legislation, a better approach would be to expand mental health services and access to care for those who need it.

"Hurting access is going to cost lives. There is absolutely no question about that," said Dr. Gregory. "Mental health treatment can reduce levels of violence, so anything that we can do to improve access, improve funding for mental health services, make them more equitable to medical services."

At this point, mandated reporting doesn't seem to be a part of the national debate.

Mental health providers say there aren't any systems in place or funding to support the mandated reporting. They do support the provisions limiting access to guns.

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