Mental Health Background Check: What Shows (And When To Be Worried)

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Background Checks | May 15, 2024

Does a mental health background check show up on the public record a man wonders by searching mental health history on the right with a magnifying glass while standing on top of an office building and another man standing by the front door asks can employers check your mental health history with a hospital in the upper left while he insists does mental health show up on background check or nics background check mental health reports.

Mental Health Background Check
Mental health background check searches all public medical records, including related arrests, convictions, and charges.

Being nervous about a mental health background check is normal. Most people don’t have any idea about the stuff that shows up on it and wonder if they should be worried about a potential employer seeing some past incident or mistake.

Fortunately, mental health background checks are very rare and only used in very specific circumstances. So most people don’t need to worry about them.

But…there are some things on a mental health background check that can negatively impact someone’s life and be used against them when it’s part of what is included in a background check.

Since a person’s mental health record is protected by privacy laws, knowing who can access it and when mental health records can be used despite public health privacy laws, is key.

The best way to ensure that mental health records don’t appear on a background check is to do one on yourself.

Since mental health background check reports are used for certain professional positions (like background checks for nurses) and can be accessed by law enforcement officials, this private health information can be used to assess government job eligibility and can apply to gun background checks and background checks for concealed carry permit requests.

So, if a person has mental health issues in the past, a background check may reveal them to potential employers (such as with a background check for daycare or a background check for caregivers). Likewise, if a person needs to purchase a firearm, the record may be used to deny them in certain states.

This guide outlines all the ways a mental health background check can be used, what it will show, and when a mental health record can negatively impact a person’s life.

Can Employers Check Your Mental Health History? (HIPAA Regulations)

Can employers check mental health records? No, not really. A person’s mental health is considered part of their physical health record, as such, it is not commonly part of what shows up on an employment background check.

U.S. Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act5 (HIPAA) in 1996. The act gave the United States Department of Human Services the mandate of keeping patients’ personal information and other healthcare consumers as private as possible.3

HIPPA screenshot explaining what records are protected and can employers check your mental health history as well as preventing does mental health show up on background check.

The HIPAA privacy rule protects people from unauthorized disclosure of personal health information, and mental health records are part of it.

However, when an employer provides a self-insured health plan for its workers, it operates a health clinic for employees or is an intermediary for health care providers, it is bound by the protections outlined by the HIPAA privacy regulation.2

Also, sometimes mental health records are disclosed during a healthcare enrollment process. However, employers cannot ask current or prospective employees about specific diseases unless the individual is asking permission for accommodation for a disability.

The only time an individual’s health records are released is when the employer gets signed consent from them or a signed court order by a judge, which is very rare.

So, basically, a mental health record will not be disclosed during the hiring process or on a background check for employment, unless the job requires an extensive level two background check. It will not appear on background checks conducted by companies like Home Depot or Walmart.

Background Check: Mental Health Records (Does a Background Check Show Mental Health Records?)

Most people want to know whether a background check will show a mental health record. For most cases, no, it won’t.

However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Law enforcement can gain access to a person’s mental health record when that person is involved in a legal violation, infraction, or crime. Likewise, jobs that involve patients are part of a nursing background check and high levels of responsibilities (like a background check for security clearance) can include a search of mental health records.

A medical practitioner must keep a person’s medical history confidential, but that does not mean that someone cannot access it.

In the ordinary course of tenant and employment screening, mental health records do not feature unless they are linked to eviction or other public criminal record.1,3

Typically, most background checks will not show physical health information and mental health records. Definitely not during the pre-employment background check.

To obtain these records, the employer has to obtain authorization from the individual or a signed order from a judge. But if the mental health records are relevant to the job they are applying for, the employer is permitted6 to do so, though in rare scenarios.1

What Shows Up on a Mental Health Background Check?

A mental health background check reveals a person’s psychological conditions, medical prescriptions related to the condition, frequency of treatment, session start and stop times, clinical summaries, summaries of symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis, medicine details, test or scan results, and other mental health information from the person’s entire life.

Typically, a mental health background check is used in states that require it for firearm ownership and specific professions.

For example, New York provides a platform for conducting mental health background checks using the Automated Mental Health Background Check7 (MHBC).

The MHBC system automatically allows businesses to search all public mental health systems. Individuals requesting pistol permits, explosives, long rifles, and certain types of employment can use the system to check their mental health background to see if they meet the criteria.3

Every staff who uses the system must obtain Information Security Training and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability training. Residents of New York State can get the training from the New York Statewide Learning Management System.8

These regulations are in place to comply with HIPAA.

What States Check Mental Health Records: Background Check?

Forty-seven states have laws that authorize and require reporting relevant data identifying anyone who is prohibited from acquiring firearms due to mental health-related issues.

But, all states have varying degrees of requirements. The following table outlines the most common:

StateRequires reporting involuntary commitmentRequires reporting court orders to undergo involuntary outpatient treatmentRequires reporting individuals who are under guardianship
New JerseyYes
New MexicoYes
New YorkYesYes
North CarolinaYesYes
North DakotaYesYesYes
Rhode IslandYes
South CarolinaYesYes
South DakotaYes

Out of these states, the following states have laws requiring agencies, courts, and mental health officials to report the necessary mental health information regarding commitments and adjudications within a specified period3:

StateTime Frame
Colorado48 hours
FloridaOne month
KansasFive days
IllinoisSeven days
Louisiana25 days
MinnesotaWithin three business days
Mississippi30 days
NebraskaAs soon as practicable but within 30 days
NevadaWithin five business days
New MexicoUpon entry of a court order, judgment or verdict
North Carolina48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays
OhioSeven days
PennsylvaniaSeven days
Rhode Island48 hours
South CarolinaFive days
South DakotaSeven days
TennesseeAs soon as practicable but no later than the third business day
Texas30 days
Utah48 hours
Virginia“As soon as practicable, but no later than the close of business on the following business day”
WashingtonThree judicial days
Wisconsin“In a timely manner”

In some states, disclosure to the NICS of a person’s mental health record is authorized but not required.

These states include West Virginia, Nebraska, Missouri, Florida, and Colorado.2

Mental Health Background Check: Gun Purchases by State

When purchasing a firearm, a mental health record will be checked in the National database, but only if the state has submitted the information to the Criminal Justice Department.

NICS Background Check: Mental Health Background Checks for Firearm Ownership

The “Brady Act” of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act makes it a requirement for all Federal Firearms Licensees to do a background check before transferring a firearm or an explosive. These background checks are performed using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).9

NICS Process

When one tries to buy an explosive or a firearm, the Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), the seller, contacts the NICS by phone or electronically. The potential buyers fill out the ATF form,10 and the seller conveys this data to the NICS, which then runs a background check on the person. The background check reveals whether the person is eligible for a firearm purchase or not.2

NICS Services

The NICS gives the FFLs full service in the District of Columbia, 31 states, and five United States territories. It also offers partial service to 6 states, and the remaining 13 states conduct their search through NICS.

NICS Availability

The NICS can be reached by phone seven days a week, 17 hours a day, including holidays. All calls are recorded and monitored. However, the NICS e-check11 is always available.

What Jobs Check Mental Health Records? (Federal Background Check System)

Certain safety and security positions like the military and law enforcement agencies require a person to pass a mental health background check. The same applies to some healthcare positions and any government job with high-security clearance. The mental health check looks at a person’s past and current mental health to determine suitability.2

How To Obtain Mental Health Records

A person can call or visit their health care provider and request a copy of their health records. The person is then required to sign for the release of these forms.

The following table shows the departments responsible for mental health background checks in every state.

StateMental Background Check Link
New YorkOffice of Mental Health7
TexasOffice of Mental Health Coordination12
IowaDivision of Mental Health and Disability Services13
WyomingBehavioral Health division14
WisconsinDepartment of Health Sciences15
AlaskaDivision of Behavioral Health16
AlabamaDepartment of Mental Health17
ArkansasDepartment of Human Sciences18
CaliforniaMental Health Services Division19
ColoradoDepartment of Human Sciences20
ConnecticutDepartment of Mental Health and Addiction21
DelawareDivision of Substance Abuse and Mental Health22
FloridaOffice of Behavioral Health23
GeorgiaDepartment for Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities24
HawaiiAdult Mental Health Division25
IdahoDepartment of Health and Welfare26
IllinoisDepartment of Human Sciences27
IndianaMental Health Services28
KansasBehavioral Health Sciences Commission29
KentuckyDepartment for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities30
LouisianaOffice of Behavioral Health31
MaineOffice of Behavioral Health32
MarylandCommission to Study Mental Health and Behavioral Health in Maryland33
MassachusettsMassachusetts Department of Mental Health34
MichiganDepartment of Mental Health35
MinnesotaOffice of Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities36
MississippiMississippi Department of Mental Health37
MissouriDepartment of Mental Health38
MontanaMental Health Sciences Bureau39
NebraskaDivision of Behavioral Health40
NevadaDepartment of Health and Human Services41
New HampshireDepartment of Health and Human Sciences42
New JerseyThe Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services43
New MexicoThe Human Services Department44
New YorkDepartment of Health and Mental Hygiene45
North CarolinaMental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services46
North DakotaDepartment of Human Services47
OhioDepartment of Mental Health and Addiction Services48
OklahomaOklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse49
OregonBehavioral Health Sciences50
PennsylvaniaDepartment of Human Sciences51
Rhode IslandDepartment of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals52
South CarolinaDepartment of Mental Health53
South DakotaDivision of Behavioral Health54
TennesseeDepartment of Health and Substance Abuse Services55
UtahDivision of Substance Abuse and Mental Health56
VermontVermont Department of Mental Health57
VirginiaDepartment of Behavioral Health and Developmental Sciences
WashingtonOffice of Forensic Mental Health Services58
West VirginiaBureau for Behavioral Health59

Mental health background check reports are important for maintaining safety in certain industries (such as health care), but although HIPPA laws protect a person’s privacy, mental health records can still be used and accessed by both employers and law enforcement.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mental Health Background Check Process

Does Mental Health Show Up on Background Check

Background checks correlate with mental health background checks. A person’s mental health may come up in a background check during a background check, though not always.1

Do Mental Health Records Show Up Background Check?

Mental health records do not appear on background checks; only criminal charges or anything listed on the public index, such as evictions or criminal records.2

Does a Background Check Show Mental Health?

The law prohibits a person’s health record from being a public record; therefore, a background check does not show mental health. It only indicates criminal records or evictions.1

How Long Does a 5150 Stay on Your Record?

5150 stays on someone’s record permanently and bars them from possessing ammunition and firearms. These records are forever and cannot be overturned.4

How Long Does a 302 Stay on Your Record?

302 stays on a person’s record for the rest of their lives unless their attorney petitions and has it removed.

Does a Welfare Check Go on Your Record?

A welfare check does not go into a person’s record.

Does Involuntary Commitment Stay on Your Record?

If the commitment is illegal, the court expunges its records, and the petitioner’s right to own arms is reinstated. However, when asking does a section 12 stay on your record, if they are not erased, they stay on record.4

Can a Mentally Ill Person Own a Gun in Colorado?

As per the federal law to which Colorado is subject, a person is prohibited from owning a gun if they have ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor or if they have a mental condition.

What Does It Mean To Be Committed to a Mental Institution?

Committed to a mental institution60 means that a person has formally been committed to a mental institution either by a commission, board, court, or any lawful authority. The term also incorporates involuntarily committing to a mental facility as an outpatient or inpatient.

Does Involuntary Commitment Show Up on Background Check?

Anyone involuntarily admitted to a mental facility or found a danger to themselves and others has their records in the system. These records show up during background checks.4

What Disqualifies You From Owning a Gun in NJ Mental Health?

Someone who has ever been committed to a mental institution or adjudicated as a mental defective is not allowed to own a gun in New Jersey.


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