Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Questions Surround Involuntary Commitment Laws in New York

"The arrest of David M. Tarloff, a man with a long history of mental illness, in the fatal stabbing of a psychologist in Manhattan has revived discussion on the thorny issue of how people with severe mental illnesses can be helped, even when they resist that assistance," according to the New York Times ("Murder Case Focuses New Attention on Mental Illness Treatment," February 19, 2008).

The article goes on to discuss the challenges of involuntary commitment laws in New York (and in most of the country):

"As is standard practice in most of the country, state law in New York allows for people who are in danger of harming themselves or others to be involuntarily committed to a mental institution for evaluation and short-term treatment. A second law, adopted in 2000, allows relatives and others to ask a judge to force patients who have been released from psychiatric hospitals to receive outpatient treatment or to be involuntarily committed. The statute is known as Kendra’s Law, named after Kendra Webdale, who was pushed in front of a subway train by Andrew Goldstein, a schizophrenic patient.

Such laws try to strike a balance between basic civil liberties and public health and safety. But even the best-crafted laws are no substitute for a mental health system that is deeply inadequate in most places in the United States. In 2003, the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health concluded that 'for too many Americans with mental illnesses, the mental health services and supports they need remain fragmented, disconnected and often inadequate, frustrating the opportunity for recovery.' ...

Even under Kendra’s Law, getting a court order to force a mentally ill person to take medication is not easy. According to Michael L. Perlin, director of the Mental Disability Law Program at New York Law School, five criteria have to be met: the person has to be not only mentally ill, but at least 18 years old; unlikely to survive in a community without supervision, demonstrated by a history of noncompliance that has resulted in one or more seriously violent acts over the last 48 months or hospitalization or receipt of mental health services in a correctional facility at least twice in the last 36 months; unlikely to participate voluntarily in treatment; and in need of treatment and likely to benefit from it.”

Read the full article.

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