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The Berkshires

NY gun control legislation includes changes to mental health law

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Albany/HV: NY gun control legislation includes changes to mental health law
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While the gun control bill focuses on what types of guns can be legally purchased and owned, it also includes changes to a state mental health law. As YNN's Matt Hunter reports, many local mental health providers believe this is an area that requires even more attention.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Perhaps more than any other field of medicine, there's much debate about the causes and proper ways to treat mental illness.

"It affects every one of us in one way or another,” said Dr. James Kelleher, the chief medical officer at Four Winds Hospital in Saratoga. “So it would be important to say there's not an easy line in the sand to be drawn all of the time."

In each of the country's recent mass shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School that claimed 26 lives, much attention has been paid to the mental state of the suspect.

In the case of alleged Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, serious mental illness was not previously diagnosed.

"A number of these situations were situations in which people were not receiving appropriate care that, in fact, probably would have successfully dealt with the individual so these events didn't happen," said Hans Lehr, Saratoga County’s mental health director.

On Monday and Tuesday, New York State lawmakers have passed a bill designed to keep those diagnosed with mental illnesses from owning firearms. Included in the bill is a two-year extension of Kendra's Law, which would increase treatment for a felon diagnosed with mental illness from six months to a year.

"The minor changes, and I consider them to be fairly minor changes to Kendra's Law, are positive ones," Lehr said.

The change in law would also require mental health professionals to report patients who they believe pose a threat to themselves or others, so their license and weapons can be revoked.

It's this change that's led some to fear whether the law might keep some patients from being forthcoming, due to fears they might lose their guns.

"It might actually problematic from that perspective in terms of enforcing it and it really may hinder the ability of the law to do what it's intended to do," Kelleher said.

While not all agree on the structure of the bill, there appears to be universal support for expanding access and awareness to mental health screening and care, especially for individuals outside of the penal system who cannot be forced to seek treatment.

"I think it would be good to be able to open the world of mental health to everyone who could benefit from the care giving," Kelleher said.

"I think we'll continue to grapple with those individuals who don't want services and can potentially be a threat to themselves or others,” Lehr said. “It's not an easy issue."

The changes to Kendra's Law also include a new provision that requires patients to undergo a full mental health evaluation before they're released from prison.

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