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News In Brief (NIB)

News In Brief 3/2/18

In the wake of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida there has once again been frequent comments about the need for mental health treatment and evaluation. But what does that really mean for psychologists working in our community?

While some psychologists specialize in dangerousness evaluations or threat assessments, all psychologists may at times question a patient’s risk for violence. The American Psychological Association’s Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy document (http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/reports/gun-violence-prevention.aspx) can provide some useful information for those of us needing reminders and guideposts. First, most people with mental illness are not inherently dangerous. Research by Jeffrey Swanson and others has routinely demonstrated that violence is more closely associated with male gender, limited financial resources, and alcohol or drug abuse (Swanson et al., 2002). Although most of us are aware of this every time we close the door to our treatment space, the media can often influence even the most stalwart. Second, good mental health treatment that addresses suicidal ideation, feelings of desperation or violent thoughts can prevent aggressive acts. In other words, the treatment that we have all been trained to provide is the approach suggested. Treating clients with aggressive thoughts can be especially difficult; remember to consult whenever necessary and seek out support. Lastly, as a reminder, if you have concern about your patient posing an immediate threat, the law in New Hampshire is direct and clear. We have “a duty to warn or to take reasonable precautions to provide protection from a client’s violent behavior” when they have named an identifiable victim. The law goes on to say that psychologists can communicate the threat to the intended victim, notify the police department, or purse an emergency involuntary admission (IEA) for inpatient treatment without legal risk of breaching confidentiality. Without an identifiable victim, continue to ask questions and determine if the patient would be amenable to voluntary inpatient admission. Violence is a complex societal issue but providing quality mental health care to thepatients in our care is one responsibility we can take on.

 

Shannon Bader, Ph.D., ABPP
NHPA Board of Directors
Chair, Legislative Committee
Chief of Forensic Examiners
MHM Services, Inc.
NHDOC Medical and Forensic Services