Forced Treatment–Yea Or Nay

Her early symptoms involved psychosis, inappropriate behavior, and inability to self-care. The hospital’s emergency room immediately followed the family’s directives and placed her in a locked ward, contrary to the typical approach used with other mental disorders: is the person an imminent danger to self or others? No one asked that question and no one asked her what she wanted. Why? What made the difference? My mother had Alzheimer’s, not schizophrenia, not bipolar, even though the initial symptoms were similar. Yet for my son with schizo-affective disorder, we had to turn somersaults to get him help. While both treatments resulted in forced or involuntary commitment, one came easily, the other took buckets of perspiration. Same symptoms, but different guidelines: different procedures, due to different laws.

At a clubhouse for people with MI (where I attend as a member), there is an individual holding his pants up with surgical gloves tied together. He is homeless, delusional, combative, gaunt, and may very well get his only meal here. Yet it is likely he will not be allowed to come back for a while. There is a two-year lawsuit going on involving families trying to get us out of the neighborhood. Last week a neighbor (not involved in the suit) came by complaining about Mr. X who was cursing and acting bizarrely in the parking lot. Mr. X needs far more help than we can offer and is putting the existence of the clubhouse in jeopardy. It would be a blessing for him to be hospitalized. Some may argue otherwise, proclaiming his right to starve to death. I say, have some compassion and place Mr. X where he can be treated and then returned to the community as the functioning person he once was. I also hope he receives this help before he winds up in jail or prison, common outcomes and poor alternatives. If he is convicted of a felony, he will lose the option of Section 8, a federal program which helps people with housing. There is a place for involuntary commitment; we just need to use common sense.


About waywardweed

I am a consumer and parent of two sons, one with a mental illness and the other a third-year law student.
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6 Responses to Forced Treatment–Yea Or Nay

  1. “There is a place for involuntary commitment; we just need to use common sense.”

    It may be humane and best for Mr. X to do exactly what you propose but society sometime ago decided it would rather see them on the streets or pay to imprison the mentally ill then to pay for the help they needed. Mr. X does sound like he needs more help then your services could provide but the whole STATE where I am from totally closed all the hospitals for the mentally ill, except for the one and only offered to house the criminally insane… where would you baker act him to?

    While it is likely that YOUR SON is going to a nice well funded private hospital, people like Mr. X would probably be warehoused on state money which is painfully in short supply. Your thinking they will get HELP but often it’s much worse then you could imagine. Part of the problem with mental hospitals in the past were that human beings put there were more subject to abuse in those environments then out on the streets. If you knew that your son would be subject to rape and abuse in a locked up system … would you consider it? Mr. X is also someone’s son.

    How do you protect the craziest people from each other, or from abuse by the people paid to care for them. These jobs are way underpaid. People who go into them are not always as altruistic as we would like. Often they have power and control issues and the people they over see are the most vulnerable in our society.

    I lived on the streets for a year of my life. In that year I was raped 4 times. People would pass me on the streets and call me crazy. I never saw a mirror so I don’t know what they saw but I remember the fear in their eyes. I remember the way they said it under their breath as if it was a dirty word. I was disgusting and not worthy of life. I was that “Crazy Bitch”… who was doing nothing! NOTHING but walking the streets, looking for a safe place to rest.

    I would rather have been on that street then in any hospital. I learned where the safe places were. I learned how to find what I needed till I could function well enough to do better. In a hospital there is no way to hide from those who would harm you, and no where to run. You don’t learn how to function in society, by learning to function in a dysfunctional environment.

    Half way houses or short stay’s for stabilization and a follow up with patient advocates who could check in on them in their own homes, over see medication management and make sure their need’s are met would seem optimal. That way they received the minimum help they needed with the maximum freedom.

    My father was in a mental hospital for over 10 years when they passed that law that put him out and he was dead within a few months. I don’t know if he was happier or if that was a more humane way to deal with him or not. I just know that some of his needs were medical and he wasn’t capable of managing his own medication.

    I have been in crisis about 4 times in the last 12 years. I had to go to the emergency room for help and each time was treated for ~3 days to get me stabilized and handed 30 days of medications and put out. Twice I tried to do follow up as an out patient and wasn’t capable of going through the intake process.

    Once the fact that a therapist friend intervened on my behalf is all that kept the two massive security guards they sent into the room because I refused to remove my clothing, from straitjacketing me. They considered my behavior bizarre and threatening. Personally, I find the whole system threatening and worthless. The best “help” is the love and respect we get from other human beings. That is unfortunately harder to find the more in need of it you are.

    • waywardweed says:

      My son went to the state hospital twice when he was commited, not a private one.He has also been in the city short-term hospital a number of times. I live in NH. Years ago we were first in the nation as far as the treatment of people with mental illnesses went. Over the past decade we have fallen like the rest of the country due to lack of money. Still, I can’t complain about the care he received. Most of the people working in the system in NH are caring individuals, doing their best with little. Today my son lives in his own apartment. It is in a neighborhood just ouside the worst area where there is a drug element. He gets lots of help from the local mental-health center. We are one of the states that provide assisted outpatient treatment. Without that he would not be able to live on his own since he is still quite sick. I agree the system sucks. There is no money. I have been involved with it for two decades. And re Mr. X, I would rather see him in a hospital than out on the street. If he doesn’t get help soon he will wind up in jail and that is a much worse alternative. Thanks for replying.

  2. I agree, there is a place for commitment, voluntary or otherwise and as a society we have to choose to recognize that a person’s right to medical help should cover mental illnesses as much as physical illnesses. Without the brain, the body is useless, how can such a division of ‘health’ be made?

  3. waywardweed says:

    Thanks for your comment. It is a hard decision to have someone commited. The way I think about it is if you feel you loved one in so sick that s/he is in danger of being run over by a truck (literally) than it is time to consider that option.

  4. Gledwood says:

    I don’t know much at all about the American involuntary commitment laws, but they seem very flaccid. I heard just about anyone with a good lawyer can overturn a “section” (as it’s called here (London)). In this country getting involuntarily detained is called being Sectioned, and there are loads of different sections they can get you with, from a 3 day observation to 6 months’ compulsory treatment. Lots of people who probably should get treatment don’t, but those who do get dragged in (usually by the police) do at least get the treatment they need… The only thing I’ve read about sectioning in America came from Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir An Unquiet Mind where she despairs that almost anyone, no matter how mad they are, can get out of involuntary treatment. America does sound like a crazy country..! 😉

  5. waywardweed says:

    It is crazy and the laws vary from state to state and it seems to be getting worse. Hospitals are closing without giving money and support to local mental-health centers. My state is one of the better ones, but that’s not saying much. Thanks for replying.

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