Tarasoff, Duty to Warn Laws, and Suicide

Posted: 20 Feb 2011 Last revised: 8 Jul 2014

See all articles by Griffin Sims Edwards

Griffin Sims Edwards

University of Alabama at Birmingham - Department of Marketing, Industrial Distribution & Economics

Date Written: November 19, 2010


State duty to warn (DTW) laws have long been the subject of much commentary. From their onset in 1976 with the seminal ruling of Tarasoff v Regents, the state mandated breach of confidentiality required of psychologists when a patient makes a credible threat to the life of another has been the subject of a “cottage industry of commentary”. Recent work attempts to test the dominating effect of these laws between the intent of the law (decrease homicides) and the adverse consequences associated with breaching client confidentiality. Many believe that compromising confidentiality renders mental health treatment ineffective calling it the “end of effective psychology”. If this is true, we should observe spill over effects into outcomes highly correlated with mental health. Teen and adult suicide rates are useful both as a measurement of mental health and allow for comparison between an outcome that should have a direct effect (teen suicides) and an outcome that would probably only have an indirect effect (adult suicides). Using a state panel of suicide rates and instruments for possible endogenous laws, I estimate a fixed effects model of the effect of state DTW laws on teen and adult suicide rates and find that states that enact a DTW law experience an increase in teen suicides of around 0.4 to 2.0 per 100,000 of the teen population but that no such effect exists among adult suicides.

Keywords: Suicide, Mental Health, Third Party Duty

JEL Classification: I18, K13, K32

Suggested Citation

Edwards, Griffin Sims, Tarasoff, Duty to Warn Laws, and Suicide (November 19, 2010). International Review of Law and Economics, Vol. 34, 2013. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1764426 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1764426

Griffin Sims Edwards (Contact Author)

University of Alabama at Birmingham - Department of Marketing, Industrial Distribution & Economics ( email )

The University of Alabama at Birmingham
1720 2nd Ave South
Birmingham, AL 35294
United States

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