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Mental Health Professionals Continue to Raise Concern About New Gun Law

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Rochester: Mental Health Professionals Continue to Raise Concern About New Gun Law
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The Mental Health Association of Rochester declared 2013 the Year of Mental Wellness, but mental health professionals say Governor Andrew Cuomo's NY SAFE Act is only increasing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

In the wake of recent tragedies, the conversation has shifted toward prevention. The NY SAFE Act cracks down on weapons use and prohibits anyone, according to the legislation, who is "a mental defective" from possessing a gun.

But mental health professionals say the new law is missing the mark.

Nearly 2.4 million people in this country are living behind bars, but its the faces behind the acts of unspeakable violence that have grabbed the attention of lawmakers and put the spotlight on the mental health community.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's NY SAFE Act includes a ban on assault weapons and a limit on the number of bullets allowed in magazines, but psychiatrists from the Mental Health Association of Rochester say the law's mental health provision will do more harm than good.

"To pin it on the five percent of crimes that are committed by those who have mental illness is really an over-exaggeration," said Dr. David Garrison, U of R, professor of psychiatry.

The provision requires mental health officials to report potentially harmful behavior. Once reported, the patient's name will be cross-checked against a gun registration database, and law enforcement will be authorized to remove the person's firearm.

"It will foster criminalization of the mentally ill. Now who's gonna trust a mental health professional if there's a new duty that I have to report or transfer someone who just has 'ideas' of violence. Who doesn't have thoughts of violence?" asked Dr. Odysseus Adamides, forensic psychiatrist.

Dr. Adamides says it will discourage the one half of Americans who will experience a diagnosable mental disorder in their lifetime from getting the help they need. He says violent crimes like the Newtown shooting isn't necessarily characteristic of a mental illness.

"It requires an astonishing absence of empathy for that to happen. That could be caused by a lot of different factors. The great majority of shootings have been with people who don't have schizophrenia or autism."

Dr. Garrison says there needs to be less focus on the guns themselves but on the person behind it.

Since coping skills are developed early on, he says schools need to take a more active role in promoting wellness.

"People are learning yoga or doing various things to learn these types of brain skills, this might be more important than learning trigonometry for some of these kids," Garrison said.

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