Mental health and mental illnesses are sensitive subjects. As much as society would like to pat itself on the back for being more open-minded these days, the undeniable fact is that mental illness still carries a heavy stigma. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a huge problem among our military members and veterans. Depression and anxiety riddle a huge portion of our population, especially younger people. Just this week, Hollywood starlet Demi Lovato shared her struggle with bipolar disorder and
addiction as she launched Be Vocal, a partnership campaign with mental health organizations like The Jed Foundation and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, to encourage folks struggling with mental illness to talk about what they’re going through.

Then there is the correlation between mental health and background checks. Nobody wants to talk about that, but the fact is that a person’s previous mental health and/or illnesses MAY (and we stress MAY) come up in a background check. Here’s some of the most common questions we see about it.

Are mental health records typically incorporated into a background check?

Your doctor is legally required to keep information about your medical history confidential, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally
off-limits all of the time. Like anything, there are exceptions to every rule but stepping over this line might have serious penalties.

Benton Mobley, Director of Compliance for Active Screening, says he’s never seen anything like a mental health record in the normal course of employment and/or tenant screening. It would have to be a criminal charge or be something else that is listed on a public index, like a criminal record or eviction(s) record(s). Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) may frown on mental records being accessed in the normal course of employment screening.

What about in professions where knowing a person’s mental health record might affect their eligibility?

The closest thing would be records released on an abuse registry search. Abuse registries can be child or elder, but only certain ones are open to Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) in certain states. The checks are usually ordered by a client who works in the health care industry and needs to know that as part of their screening process.

Obviously, certain security and safety positions like law enforcement and military agencies require a person to pass a mental health check. This almost always carries an in-depth look at any previous mental health issues you may have had.

Do other countries subscribe to these practices too? For instance, what about if I want to apply for a job in Canada?

If it’s Canada you’re talking about, you’re in luck. Just last week the “Toronto Police Service announced it will no longer release records of non-criminal mental health encounters with police — including suicide attempts or other psychological crises — to employers and community groups requesting background checks on potential employees or volunteers,” according to this article. Previously, people in Ontario with a history of mental illness, or even a single mental health episode that provoked a police response, say they lost employment and volunteer opportunities due to the release of non-conviction mental health records. Toronto joins a list of other Canadian cities and provinces who are eliminating this archaic practice.

As for other countries, you’ll have to do more research and let us know what you find!

Wait… what about people who want to buy a gun? Isn’t there a mental health provision in their background checks?

There is new information on that which is shedding light on how often mental health records are accessed in gun background checks. Here’s what we know:

  • State governments have tripled since 2011 the number of mental health records submitted to the FBI’s gun-purchase background checks system.
  • The mental health records are being entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the primary database used by the FBI in its firearm background checks
  • Some gun control advocacy groups report the new findings have contributed to a 65% hike since 2011 in firearms dealers denials of gun buyers to people declared mentally ill (or were at a time).
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