Mental health commitments: for whose good?

People who are living with severe and persistent mental illness know the words: mental health commitment. It’s a horrible experience that I would not wish on my worst enemy. Wisconsin is one of the few states that empowers police to make the decision to pick up someone who is at risk of injuring himself or herself or someone else. I have listened to case managers complain about their frustration with police who refuse to pick up someone. I have also witnessed situations where someone is threatening a mental health worker with bodily harm but then acts very differently once the police arrive.And the person will even boast about being able to fool the police.

No one benefits from that kind of situation. It leads to frustration and burn out. Yesterday, I saw somebody who I have seen taken away several times leaving the mental hospital looking as well as anyone. He had been visiting a friend, doing a good deed.

What causes people to switch from on to off? I know of a woman who had been forced to take medication due to incidents involving her family that she had completely forgotten. She struggled with the medication but finally agreed to take it. She actively looked for work, maintained her apartment and made many of her own decisions. She might even sit down with her case manager and decide together she no longer needs to be on a commitment where she could be removed from the community for not taking her medication.

On the other side, there is the potential for a commitment to become abusive. I know of someone who faced a commitment hearing who was doing well in the community. She was seeking employment, taking her medication and maintaining herself very well. Two psychologists who never met her agreed that she deserved to be committed. But with the help of friends, she was able to demonstrate that the commitment was unnecessary and abusive.i

these are the things that must be weighed in considering whether to adopt AB 450, which was introduced by Reps Honadel, Krug, Peterson, Kugglistch and others to the Wisconsin State Assembly. It would give mental health professionals and others the right to request that someone face “emergency stabilization.” Some mental health advocates would argue that these kinds of commitments can be very traumatizing and that persons who are committed will turn on the people  who petition for them to receive treatment. Although the bill includes a provision making it a felony to lie in attempting to commit someone, will that be enough to prevent the abuse that already exists.



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