Originally published in the RLC Newsletter, December, 2012
There is a popular misunderstanding that ‘mandated reported’ means that you are mandated by law to report if someone is talking about hurting themselves or someone else. This is not true. ‘Mandated reporter’ refers to the legal requirement of many professions and organizations to report observed or suspected abuse or neglect of someone who is considered elderly, disabled or a child by a care giver. While organizations may still have clear policies for their employees around reporting perceived risks of self-harm or hurting others, that is an organizational decision and not a black-and-white legal mandate outside of the organization’s control as is the ‘mandated reporter’ law.
What does this mean? It means there IS a potential discussion to be had within your organization about what their policies say regarding the need to report suspected risk of harm. For example, does this include when someone seems at risk of non-lethal self-harm like cutting or burning? Does it include situations where someone says they are suicidal, but upon further conversation, you find they are just venting or wanting to be heard? The reality is that many people who have received services within the mental health system have learned to use words like ‘suicide’ to get their needs met, and sometimes it can be genuinely valuable to simply ask them what that means to them, rather than jumping to an emergency intervention. Similarly, it can be really valuable to recognize many types of self-injury as a way someone has learned to cope with trauma and pain that is separate from suicide, and does not require an emergency intervention.
Check in with your co-workers and organizational leadership. It’s worth a conversation!