Mental Illness Crisis: Would You Know How To Help Your Loved One?

English: Official portrait of United States Re...
English: Official portrait of United States Representative . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mental illness ~ youth and young adults in crisis

As January 2014 comes to a close, we wanted to take a few minutes to look back three years ago when Tucson was the scene of a mass shooting. On January 8, 2011, six people were mortally wounded and 13 were critically injured including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  On January 8, 2014, now former Congresswoman Giffords celebrated her life by tandem skydiving, remarking “I’m alive!”

Meanwhile the convicted assailant, Jared Laughner, who was 22 years old at the time this attack took place and subsequently diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, is serving a life sentence without parole after being treated and found competent to stand trial.

At the time that the Tucson tragedy took place many Tucsonans wondered why Jared had never been treated for his mental illness even though his college classmates, college professors, college officials, friends, neighbors and his parents “knew” something was not right with Jared. He was expelled from college and the college would not consider reinstating him until he submitted to a psychological evaluation. But that never happened…until his arrest.

In the state of Arizona it turns out that any one of those who knew and interacted with Jared could have submitted a Civil Commitment application for a court ordered evaluation. According to the state:

“…the evaluation is arranged by the identified agency that filed the petition. The evaluation may take place in an inpatient facility, such as a hospital, or an outpatient mental health agency, based upon the needs of the person. The evaluation must be completed within 72 hours (3 business days) and consists of
two independent assessments. At this point, if the person cannot afford legal counsel, a public defender will be appointed to provide legal representation.”

When the evaluation is completed the person may be released, offered the choice to receive voluntary treatment or a petition for Court Ordered Treatment (COT) is filed and a hearing takes place for Court Ordered Treatment. It might take 7-10 days for the hearing and the person may be kept in the facility until the hearing is held. 

If only someone would have filed a Civil Commitment application for Jared prior to January 8, 2011.

Meet Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds

On November 18, 2013, Gus Deeds was released from an emergency room in Virginia because the medical professionals could not find an open psychiatric hospital bed within the state’s legally allowed time frame of four (4) hours [which can be stretched to six (6) hours under certain circumstances]. State Senator Creigh Deeds took his son home from the emergency room and the next day 24 year old Gus repeatedly stabbed his father and then committed suicide.

On January 26, 2014, CBS 60 Minutes aired an interview by Scott Pelley with Senator Deeds. Deeds is currently working on new state legislation which will create a registry for psychiatric beds and increase the 4-6 hour time limit for emergency custody orders.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

What do you know about your own state’s civil commitment standards?

While researching today’s post we came upon a very helpful website, Treatment Advocacy Center. On this site you will find state by state information about the laws that pertain to mental illness, commitment and treatment. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center:

“In a mental health crisis, your first priority will be to protect your loved one and others from dangerous or inappropriate behaviors that result from untreated or uncontrolled mental illness. Because your family member may not even realize or acknowledge being ill, recruiting public health or other officials to intervene is frequently necessary.

To effectively advocate for intervention, it is essential to know the civil commitment standards for intervention in your state or the state where the family member lives.

At least two – and, in all but a handful of states, three – forms of court-ordered treatment are authorized by state law. States use different names to describe each form of treatment.”

The ultimate goal of the Treatment Advocacy Center is to assist people in finding mental health care for their loved one. Their aim is to help reduce the number of preventable tragedies which take place daily in our country when mental illness is not treated.   

Awareness is key to finding solutions to the greater issues of mental health care in our states. Be aware of your state laws. Every state is slightly different and you never know when you may need this kind of information. You might also find that in each state there is a slang phrase that denotes an “involuntary commitment.” For example in California it is referred to as a “5150” or being “5150.” In the state of Maine the certification process for a commitment is called a “blue paper” or “being blue papered.” 

Some final thoughts…

It is often said that if we came upon a friend, loved one, or even a perfect stranger and suspected they were suffering a medical emergency like a heart attack, asthma attack, diabetic coma…a seizure, then we would stop to help. But unfortunately when people exhibit signs of mental illness, even a panic attack, anxiety attack or a bi-polar episode, we often try to escape the situation, as opposed to lending a helping hand. Sometimes the helping hand involves an involuntary commitment for an evaluation. As Senator Deeds told CBS This Morning:

“For too long we’ve been shoving…problems with respect to the mentally-ill under the table. We need to take a good long look at fundamental changes in our system of care.”

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