Danger to Self/Others & Duty to Warn

Danger to Self or Others & Grave Disability

Effective July 1, 2013 an amendment was made to the law regarding mental health involuntary hold/civil commitment CRS 27-65-102 - Care & Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness.  More specifically, the changes in the law concern definitions for “danger to self and others” and “gravely disabled”. 

Duty to Warn

In 2013, a clarification was provided by the Department of Human Services on the interpretation of the term “imminent” used in the Danger to Self and Others section of the law.  See the DHS webpage for further explanation.

In 2014, the CRS 13-21-117  was amended. This section of statute concerns “duty to warn” situations when individuals with mental health issues may be at risk of seriously harming themselves or others. It mandates mental health professionals to break confidentiality and report individuals who express a serious threat to themselves, others, or target entities.

The amendment states that mental health providers are mandated to warn or protect a specific person or persons, including those identifiable by their association with a specific location or entity, against the violent behavior of a person receiving treatment from the mental health provider when the provider’s client has communicated a serious threat of imminent physical violence against such persons or entity.  (Italics added to indicate a new part of the mandate)

Note: Mental Health Providers include physicians, social workers, psychiatric nurses, psychologists, or other mental health professionals, or a mental health hospital, community mental health center or clinic, institution, or their staff.

What This Means for Providers:

  • Providers who report threats of imminent physical violence will not have civil liability and are immune from professional discipline
  • Providers must make judgements about imminent danger, which is impossible to do with absolute accuracy
  • Patients may incur harm if providers inaccurately make a report where there is no actual intent to harm self or others on the part of the patient

What This Means for Clients:

  • Clients who make threats of violent behavior will lose patient confidentiality
  • Individuals with serious mental health issues will be protected when they are incapable of redirecting their destructive thoughts or behaviors if they make threats 

 Next Steps & Resources:

  • If a serious threat of imminent physical violence against a person or persons, including those associated with a specific location or entity is made by a patient, contact the targeted person or persons immediately
  • Call 911 and file a police report if a serious imminent threat is made; request an ambulance for transport to mental health facility if needed
  • For additional immediate assistance, call Colorado Crisis Services, 24/7/365 at 1-844493-TALK (8255)
  • More information on ‘Duty to Warn’ can be found on the NASW Legal Defense Fund website here  and here