What shows up on a mental health background check

In the US, while requesting a permit to carry weapons or explosives, or applying for jobs in nursing, government, or national security, it’s mandatory for an individual to go through a mandatory mental health background check.

So what shows up on a mental health background check? It shows if the individual has any sort of mental health condition, any history of past psychological episodes, if they’re under treatment for any ongoing issue, details of doctors they’re seeing, the sessions and the diagnosis, the prescription, and what sort of medications they’re on.

The mental health background check focuses on information that helps to determine whether an individual might be harmless for a permit/job or not. It’s done to check whether they’re mentally fit to be trusted where psychiatric stability is a must. Read this article to learn all in detail.

How Is Mental Health Background Check Different Than Regular Background Check?

In regular background checks for every other job, employers don’t go for medical information. That information is strictly confidential and doctors are prohibited by the law to disclose any of the details without the patient’s consent or a federal order from the court.

According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (this act was issued in 1996 by the United States Department of Health and Human Services), HHS is obliged to protect the medical records of an individual under any circumstances.

Due to that, the medical record of a certain applicant is never included in a regular background check.

On the other hand, Mental Health Background Check, as it states in the name, is particularly done to gain intel on an individual’s state of mind. That determines whether they are psychologically fit for a job or a permit.

When Mental Health Background Check Is Required

Mental health background check is required in any of the two following cases:

  1. Carry Permit for Firearms and Other Weapons: When an individual applies for a permit to carry firearms (pistols and rifles), any other kind of weapons labeled as dangerous, or explosives, it is required by the law for the organization to run a background check through OMH (Office of Mental Health)
  2. Fitness Check For Certain Jobs: People applying for government, law enforcement, federal jobs (like in FBI, NSA, DEA), military, or jobs like nursing and caregivers are required to go through a mental health background check.

As these jobs require a certain amount of control over one's own psyche, an individual needs to be in an appropriate psychological state to serve in these fields.

The Records Analyzed In Mental Health Background Check

The mental health background check goes through the following two types of records:

  1. Mental Health Records: Initially the screening searches for records about existing psychological conditions. If the individual is seeing any doctor, how frequently, and details on the sessions. There's a thorough check-up on diagnosis and prescriptions if there's any psychological condition.
  2. Criminal Records: Where NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) gets involved in the process of mental health background checks, the system checks whether the applicant has a history or criminal record in the past and if it's influenced by psychological conditions.

NICS particularly decides whether a person should be allowed to own firearms or not.


What Shows Up On A Mental Health Background Check

It’s not difficult to assume from the two steps of screening what information would appear on a mental health background check. Every bit of detail that’s essential for the permit one is applying for, is going to be included in the screening.

  1. Psychological Condition: Foremostly, if the individual has any psychological condition that might be of concern. An unstable individual cannot be trusted with a gun, nor should be in charge of something they’re not fit to handle.
  2. Diagnosis and Prognosis: Proper information on diagnosis and prognosis will be included to see how the psychological condition might affect an individual’s action and whether their application should be taken under consideration.
  3. Doctor/Therapist Information: If the applicant is under the observation of a doctor/therapist, their information might show up if required and consented.
  4. Prescriptions and Medication: One of the crucial pieces of information in a mental health background check is whether the individual is obliged to follow a prescription and/or under certain medication. This falls under narcotic or drug abuse screening as well.
  5. Test/Scan Results: The history of scan/test results is mandatory to understand the progress of the applicant’s condition and their current compatibility.
  6. Record of Events Induced By Condition/Criminal Records: If the applicant has any record of episode/incident or criminal activities induced by their condition, it’s mandatory by the law to have these details included on the mental health background check.

These are the details that show up on a mental health background check. However, several details might vary depending on the purpose of the screening.

With HIPAA in motion, medical records are not public information. They’re to be dealt with confidentiality for sensitive measures. And due to that, certain details might not be disclosed for certain applications without the applicant’s consent or an order from the court.

However, all states don’t follow the same procedures for mental health background checks.

How Much Say Does An Individual Have On Mental Health Background Check?

As stated before, because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, medical information is never to be disclosed for a background check, only if there’s an urgent need for that and the applicant consents. Other than that only the judge can intervene to check medical information.

But that does not apply to a mandatory mental health background check when applying for a firearm license or a job in the security or caregiving services.

However, a citizen has every right to not give consent to a mental health background check, or refuse to give access to certain details. In such a case, considering the state law, the state also has the full authority to take that request under condition or dismiss the application.

Automated Mental Health Background Check

Some states (Particularly the state of New York) run background checks through MHBC. MHBC, which refers to the process of Automated Mental Health Background Check, lets employers or an organization run a screening on their own from the official website for MHBC.

Only members of organizations/agencies responsible for the permit of weapons, and employment in federal, law enforcement, military, and caregiving services can access this system. And they have to be trained beforehand in Information Security Training and HIPAA regulations.

There's a guiding manual on the website that explains the whole screening process. All public mental health system databases are interconnected with MHBC, and it screens them all to fetch necessary information on a certain individual.

It takes about 24 hours for a complete automated mental health background check.



The mental health background check shouldn’t be a matter of big concern unless the applicant has a concerning psychological condition or past criminal record that might be harmful to public safety.

This system is authorized by the government and protected by the law, so there's no risk of leaking sensitive information.

Remember, what shows up on a mental health background check is between you and the authority. It doesn’t have any impact on background checks done for regular employment and won't affect your job-seeking process.

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