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Pastor: New York law makes it more difficult to get care

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MADRID - A local pastor is concerned that aspects of New York state’s gun-control legislation will interfere with his efforts to help his parishioners facing mental health issues receive the proper treatment they need.

Richard Sinclair, senior pastor of the Christian Fellowship Center, with locations in Madrid and Potsdam, often provides counseling to struggling parishioners. If he finds it necessary, he will refer that individual to mental health care professionals and counselors. He’s worried that certain requirements of the new legislation will breach the trust between a mental health professional and their patients, which he said is essential to providing adequate care.

The law will require therapists, counselors, doctors and nurses to report to government authorities if they believe a patient is likely to harm himself or others.

“Mental health care is an atmosphere of open, honest sharing. The new anti-gun laws disrupt that environment (of sharing), because it changes the presumption of confidentiality,” Mr. Sinclair said. “It changes whether people will feel comfortable going to and sharing their feelings with a mental health care professional.”

Mr. Sinclair believes the law will create anxiety and wariness among those who are seeking mental health care or counseling. He says many patients may begin to wonder, “‘if I share with my mental health professional what I’m struggling with, what will they do with that information?’”

The legislation may be grounded largely on the assumption that psychiatrists and counselors are more able to predict violent behavior than they actually are, Mr. Sinclair said.

“There seems to be an underlying presumption that mental health professionals are able to predict dangerous behavior. (But) it’s just not true,” he said. “I think people put a lot of faith in professionals and institutions - perhaps more than we should - and when there’s a problem we assume the government can fix it, or that doctors could have predicted it.”

Mr. Sinclair does believe there is a problem in modern society with violence, particularly gun-violence, but thinks making health care professionals “become mandatory reporters” is detrimental to preventing violence. The best approach is to make health care more available, and to better train medical and education officials at identifying mental health issues.

Additional mental health resources are part of President Obama’s gun-control proposals, which were applauded by some in the mental health community. Part of Mr. Obama’s proposal includes $150 million toward training teachers and others who work with young people in identifying mental health issues.

“(We need) increased care for those with mental health issues. (But) the New York law makes it more difficult to get care,” Mr. Sinclair said.

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