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Local Mental Health Advocate Supports Gun Plan

Posted at 10:04 PM, Jan 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-05 23:14:40-05

President Obama made his case for how to address a so-called "gun violence epidemic," and part of it is being applauded by local mental health advocates.

President Obama made his case from the East Room of the White House Tuesday.  The executive actions would require all gun sellers both online and at gun shows to perform background checks on potential buyers.  President Obama also proposed stepping up enforcement, and adding 200 new agents to the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, and increasing research on gun safety technology.

The final part of the plan would allocate $500 million for increasing access to mental health care.

“We were elated to see at a federal level this is being recognized,” said Tom Starling, CEO and President of Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee.  “This could be used for suicide prevention, more beds for people who need treatment, and increasing accessibility in rural areas.”

President Obama did not specify how the money would be used.  However, Starling said due to cuts at the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, extra funding would go a long way in helping people get treatment they need.

President Obama’s plan also includes proposed changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule that would allow doctors and medical providers to report patients found to be mentally ill to the FBI's background check system. Reporting mental illness is currently limited under the 1996 HIPAA Privacy Rule.

Starling said the change would impact a relatively small number of people, but he believed it could make a big impact on helping distinguish between those who have mental illness and those who are violent.

“A person with mental illness is actually four times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime than be a perpetrator,” said Starling.  “I think President Obama’s announcement will clarify there are two groups: people who are violent, and people who have mental illnesses.”