What is Involuntary Commitment?
by Kevin Caruso
Involuntary commitment (a.k.a. civil commitment or involuntary civil commitment) is the act of placing individuals in a psychiatric ward (or similar facility) without their consent. Although such an action may seem harsh, it is sometimes necessary in order to prevent people from harming themselves or others, and to ensure that appropriate treatment is administered to them.
The laws governing involuntary commitment vary from country to country and state to state, but, in general, laws restrict involuntary commitment to those who are mentally ill
and/or under the influence of drugs or alcohol and are deemed to be in imminent danger of harming themselves or others. In the United States, the maximum initial time for involuntary commitment is usually 3 to 5 days.
Thus, if the police are called to a location, for whatever reason, and observe an individual meeting the above requirements, they may take him or her to a psychiatric ward. There, the individual will be assessed by a psychiatrist, and, if determined to be in need of involuntary commitment based on local law, will be held and treated against his or her will. (It should be noted that people cannot be committed just because others deem their actions to be "bizarre" or "crazy.")
If the individual is not discharged on or before the 3 to 5 day limit because additional treatment is necessary, a court order may be sought to extend the involuntary commitment.
The patient has a right to seek counsel and fight the involuntary commitment at this juncture if so desired.
The idea of involuntary commitment horrifies many as horror stories from decades ago still come to mind in which people were committed for almost any reason, and held indefinitely.
And concerns still exist about the legality, constitutionality, and ethics of involuntary commitment, but vastly improved laws introduced over the past few decades have curtailed many of the abuses that previously existed -- abuses definitely still occur, but they have been significantly reduced.
And for those who believe that they are falsely committed or mistreated in any way, civil action remains a viable option for redress. And lawsuits are not uncommon subsequent to involuntary commitments.
People with untreated schizophrenia and bipolar disorder -- or people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who do not take their medication -- are particularly susceptible to involuntary commitment.
And anytime that someone attempts suicide and refuses treatment, he or she will most likely be involuntarily committed.
If you or someone you know is suicidal, please go to the Home Page of this website for immediate help.
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