Forensic Mental Health Evaluations and the Fine Line Between Sanity and Insanity
A New York Times piece last month discussed Delawarean Toby Lopez: described in the first line of that piece as a “supremely ordinary guy.”
He was a car salesman in Wyoming, Delaware when – after a high school friend was killed in Afghanistan – began intense social media discussions with those who falsely claimed affiliation with the Islamic State terrorist organization.
What started out as a few naïve conversations turned into an obsessive flurry of communication that led him to quit his job, contact the FBI, and ultimately end up in jail facing charges and with his sanity in question.
He went through multiple mental health evaluations before finally being released, based on a third evaluation done by Dr. Kirk Heilbrun, a Drexel psychologist that deemed Lopez mentally competent.
While Lopez no longer faces charges -- he says the incident and evaluations involved have left him with a tarnished reputation and difficulty finding work.
Forensic mental health evaluations are quite different from diagnostic mental health evaluations.
Dr. Kirk Heilbrun says while the process has been refined over the years, there’s still room for improvement.
“It’s just a question of - for psychologists and psychiatrists - getting good at doing these kinds of evaluations and then for judges and attorney, recognizing that there are some who do it well, and some not so well and trying their best to get the ones that get the information that is best from the ones that do it well,” Heilbrun said