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Involuntary Commitment

Individuals suffering from mental disorders are sometimes unable to understand the severity of their illness, may refuse to take their prescribed medications, or are unable to recognize their need for medical assistance.

Even the love and support from family members may not be adequate to keep a person with severe mental illness safe and functioning.

Sometimes, the most caring option is to seek an involuntary commitment for someone in order to stabilize their mental health and get their psychological functioning to a place where they can manage their illness.

Involuntary commitment is a process in which a judge decides whether a person who is not managing his/her mental illness should be required to go to a psychiatric hospital or accept other mental health treatment. This choice to follow through with this civil procedure is certainly a difficult one, but it may also be the ultimate life-saving choice.

A civil commitment is not a criminal conviction and will not go on a criminal record.

In the mental health community, involuntary commitment is considered a “last resort” option. When a civil commitment petition has been filed, an investigator will investigate the need for the commitment. Depending on the investigator’s decision, the case may be dismissed without a hearing, the person may go into a diversion program or a hearing may be held. If a hearing is held, the person has a lawyer and witnesses testify. The judge then makes a decision whether the person should be committed.

A person can be committed if after hearing from witnesses a judge finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person has a mental disorder and, because of that mental disorder, is:

  • Dangerous to self or others

  • Unable to provide for basic personal needs such as health and safety

Or, the judge can find that a person is:

  • Diagnosed as having a major mental illness such as schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder AND

  • Has been committed and hospitalized twice in the last three years and is showing symptoms or behavior which is similar to those that led to a prior hospitalization AND

  • Unless treated, will continue, to a reasonable medical probability, to deteriorate and become a danger to self or others or unable to provide for basic needs

If the person is committed, the person may be hospitalized or may be required to undergo treatment in some other setting.

 

Involuntary Commitment in an Emergency Situation

Often, a person’s mental illness will manifest itself as harmful behavior to ones self or others. In this situation, 911 should be called. Some police departments have special units that are trained to deal specifically with mentally ill individuals. For example, Austin Police Department has the Crisis Intervention Team which is assigned this task. The police officers and/or the special unit will need to assess whether the person is an adult (over 18) and whether there is a substantial risk of imminent harm to themselves or others.

If “yes” can be answered for both of these factors, the person can be taken into custody and immediately transported to a mental health facility for observation, whether the person volunteers or not. Once the officer transports the individual to a mental health facility the involuntary commitment process discussed above begins.

Texas Young Lawyers Association. Committed to Healing: Involuntary Commitment Procedures

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