Mental health clinicians' attitudes about reporting threats against the President

Margaret H. Coggins, Henry J. Steadman, Bonita M. Veysey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Objective: A recent review by the United States Secret Service of cases involving threats against the President indicated that about 50 percent of subjects had received mental health care. However, only 12 percent of referrals for investigation came from mental health professionals. This study explored reasons for this discrepancy by examining mental health clinicians' attitudes about reporting threats against the President to the Secret Service. Methods: A questionnaire developed using findings from a series of focus groups was mailed to a stratified sample of 1,200 psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers in four states. The instrument included questions about their experience with threats against the President, factors that influence reporting of threats, and knowledge about the Secret Service and its functions. Results: A total of 592 questionnaires were returned, for a response rate of 49.3 percent. Therapists know very little about the Secret Service and are unclear about how to appropriately respond to threats against the President by their clients. The majority of respondents (89.9 percent) indicated they would report a threat against the President only if they thought the threat was 'real,' contingent on situational and patient variables and elements of the threat itself. Most of the respondents (62.4 percent) indicated that regardless of what information was sought by the Secret Service, they would disclose only information they considered clinically relevant to the investigation. Conclusions: Given the importance of clinical information for assessing risk to the President, the Secret Service should consider increased educational efforts to inform the mental health community about the functions and mission of the Secret Service and to clarify professional obligations to report threats against the President.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)832-836
Number of pages5
JournalPsychiatric Services
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1996
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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