Can Mentally Ill People Be Forced Into Treatment?

People with mental illness have the right to choose the care they receive. Forced treatment, which includes forced hospitalization, forced medication, immobilization and isolation, and stripping, is only appropriate in rare circumstances when there is a serious and immediate threat to safety. Everyone has the legally protected right to decide if they want treatment. Treatment is often most effective when the person has accepted it.

However, in some cases, the Mental Health Act provides ways for people to receive an emergency evaluation without their consent. This type of coercion can damage trust between consumers and the mental health system, causing many to avoid contact with it altogether. For years, people with mental health issues have been fighting against the outdated belief that they are not competent enough to make their own decisions or manage their own care. This has helped turn what was once a walled institution into a symbol of hope for the future of mental health care. Affordable, reliable, and professionally produced resources on a variety of mental health topics are available for patients, families, students, and professionals.

Many mental health experts argue that involuntary treatment does not work and that detention by well-meaning professionals can cause lasting trauma. If the psychiatric team finds that the person poses a risk to themselves or others, they can remain in the hospital in other ways provided for in the Mental Health Act until it is determined that they can leave safely. They also point out that police officers lack the experience needed to assess a person's psychiatric status and are at great risk of a dangerous or even fatal escalation every time they interact with someone suffering from a mental health crisis. Mental Health America (MHA) believes that the best protection of human rights and the best hope for recovery from mental illness come from access to voluntary mental health treatments and services that are comprehensive, community-based, recovery-oriented, and culturally and linguistically competent. The MHA urges states to adopt laws that reflect the core value of maximizing the dignity, autonomy, and self-determination of people affected by mental health problems.

It is essential that the rights of people with mental health problems to make decisions about their treatment be respected. Your gift will fund innovative mental health research that helps people recover. Use this series of free online tutorials as a starting point for learning and understanding a wide range of mental health topics. However, involuntary treatment also includes involuntary medication or other treatments, including electroconvulsive therapy, whether ordered by a court or imposed by mental health professionals, treatment imposed on people with mental health problems in prisons and jails or as a condition of probation, supervision, or probation, ambulatory placement, and the use of guardianship or guardianship laws.

Jeanette Kunzler
Jeanette Kunzler

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