Mental Health Diagnosis and the 2nd Amendment: A Therapist’s Opinion

Posted: February 4, 2013 in Counseling, Gun Control, Politics


The back story: I have a Master’s degree in Professional Counseling and hold Licensure in the state of Tennessee as a Professional Counselor-Mental Health Services Provider. Additionally, I am a certified Mandatory Pre-screening Agent, meaning that I can sign an involuntary commitment to place someone in a psychiatric hospital.  I have worked as a therapist in a Community Mental Health facility, as a Crisis Responder, as a group therapist in an Alcohol and Drug Addiction program. My current position is in drug and alcohol abuse research for a state university. I do not claim to be an expert, but I do claim to have a fair degree of common sense and I look at people as people, not as labels. I have seen the mental health system from the inside, and it isn’t pretty. This post is my opinion concerning the usefulness, and the great potential for damage, when labeling people with a mental health diagnosis. The population that I am talking about here does not include those who have proven themselves to be dangerous; I am referring to the average person who seeks counseling.

The news media seem to be embracing the idea that mental health is the real issue that should be addressed in background checks that affect one’s ability to own a firearm. I have heard some pundits pushing for repeal of HIPPA protections in regard to mental health records, going to far as to say that therapists should have the power to add people to a firearm “no-buy list”. This position appeals to emotion, it sounds reasonable to those who are uninformed about the process. I have to wonder, what is the origin of this narrative? Is it coming from professionals in the mental health community? Or is it coming from the government and the state-controlled media, people who really have no idea what they are talking about? While I am in complete agreement that anyone who would aim a gun at a room full of children and start shooting is a special kind of crazy (I prefer the word ‘evil’), the idea of mental health providers being mandated to release records of their clients troubles me on many levels.

Those who are advocating for release of mental health records need to do some serious research regarding exactly how a mental health ‘diagnosis’ is made. Do they know that a DSM label is required in order for a provider to be reimbursed for services by insurance companies?  Is there a blood test or a scan of the brain that shows abnormality? Is there any objective test that can demonstrate that a person has PTSD, or Major Depressive Disorder, or any other mental health condition listed in the DSM-IV-TR? For that matter, what is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders? How is this book, the ‘bible’ of psychiatry and professional therapy, put together, and by whom? This video will answer some of those questions:

My personal observation from working in the field of mental health is that DSM diagnosis is often sloppy and done for the convenience of the provider. I cannot count the times that I have seen young and otherwise healthy adults given some sort of label and prescribed one or more psychotropic medication(s). Even more heartbreaking is the number of children who have been labeled and medicated in much the same way. It is a travesty, and it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. People begin to identify themselves by their labels. They begin to embrace the lie that they are inherently flawed and unable to function in society. Often they file for disability based on their diagnosis, and they go on to live a life of hopelessness and despair. All because a psychiatrist or professional therapist talked to them for an hour (or less), looked up a few of their self-described problems in the DSM, and casually assigned them to a certain category in order to be reimbursed for services. But I digress.

To get back to the original reason for this post, it is beyond ridiculous to suggest that my 2nd Amendment right to own a firearm, or yours, should be based upon the completely subjective diagnosis of some sort of mental health disorder. On any given day, based on behaviors reported by others or by self-reported struggles, the DSM cookbook can be pulled out and more than one diagnosis can be arrived at and justified by a provider. Far too many in the field, good people who genuinely care, are forced to make these diagnoses by the system so that a funding source is satisfied and payment is made for the service. The whole thing stinks, and it will only get worse with Obamacare regulations.

We need to be very, very careful about advocating that mental health providers be mandated to release mental health records for ANY reason, especially to restrict the freedoms of fellow Americans, and we need to be doubly cautious about giving therapists the power to put someone on a list that denies the right to own a gun.

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