Ababiy: Keep mental health care providers and law enforcement separate

People dealing with mental health issues aren’t criminals.

Jonathan Ababiy

Since the shooting that occurred at their school, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas teens have showed a remarkable amount of bravery and courage. They’ve founded a national movement and helped orchestrate one of the largest protests in American history. Our country’s tradition of inaction after mass shooting has become almost cliche, but the MSD students have countered that completely. One of the students, Cameron Kasky, roasted his U.S. Senator on stage, and another, David Hogg, got 19 companies to boycott Fox News personality Laura Ingraham’s show after she inappropriately harassed him. The MSD teens have changed the national conversation on gun control through their activism.

Members of MSD’s school newspaper wrote a manifesto or series of policy proposals in the Guardian. The proposals were mostly good — allow the CDC to do research on guns, universal background checks, ban bump stocks — but there was one that has made me scratch my head: changing privacy laws to allow mental health care providers to communicate with law enforcement. I do not mean to blame the MSD students because their proposal comes out of the misguided way our society thinks about mental health and gun violence.

Mental health care professionals already somewhat have the ability to communicate with law enforcement. The American Psychological Association’s Code of Ethics states that therapists have to report to the police if clients are victims of abuse or are talking about inflicting violence on others. Changing the laws would just create an oversight.

There is a lot of danger in this oversight because, as the authors of one study suggest, the “connections between mental illness and gun violence are less causal and more complex than current U.S. public opinion and legislative action allow.” It pushes a dangerous assumption to treat mentally ill people as potential criminals. People dealing with mental health issues are not going to be propelled to cause mass shootings. In fact, research even shows that there is no significant link between mental illness and extreme violence.

A communicative therapist would also breach on one of the biggest principles of therapy — secrecy. It would be much harder for clients to talk and confide in their therapists, knowing that law enforcement is listening, too. Of course, many people have not done anything wrong and have nothing to hide, but the definition of “wrong” can change very fast. People don’t have the criminal code memorized, so a simple slip in therapy could lead to their therapist ratting on them.

The MSD manifesto is flawed, but the movement that the students have created isn’t. The pivotal thing is that the kids are talking about mental health because our country has forgotten that it matters and given it a ugly stigma. We need to reexamine the way we think about mental health and one of the ways we can do that is by looking at the manifesto.