Can You Be Committed to a Mental Hospital Against Your Will?

Emergency Detention and Commitment for Severe Depression

Teenage girl sitting on hospital bed
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Can you be committed to a psychiatric ward at a hospital or a mental hospital against your will? What if you are feeling suicidal? What should you know about both short-term emergency detention and long-term commitment?

The answer is that you can be committed to a mental hospital against your will if you meet the criteria set forth by the state in which you live.

The exact criteria can vary, but often includes the requirement that you must present a danger, either to yourself or others, before you can be committed.

Criteria to Be Committed (General, Short-Term)

Although the exact process for commitment varies from state-to-state, each state has procedures in place that prevent you from being detained without just cause, such as requirements for medical certification or judicial approval. There are also time limits on how long you can be held against your will.

Who can initiate the process of having you committed also varies from state to state, and depends on the type of commitment being sought.

It's important to note that there is also a significant difference between emergency detention—committing a person for a short period of time—and longer periods of commitment.

Can You Be Committed If You Are Suicidal?

If you are feeling suicidal and it is believed that you are in danger of hurting yourself, this would fall under the umbrella of reasons for a short-term commitment or "involuntary hospitalization for depression."

Other criteria that may be considered include whether you are able to take care of yourself and whether you are in need of treatment for your mental illness. Some states do not require that a person be in danger of hurting themselves or others, and involuntary hospitalization may be considered if a person is refusing needed treatment for mental illness. The definition of mental illness also varies from state to state.

Who Can Make the Request?

An emergency detention, such as might be necessary for a situation where you have made an attempt to hurt yourself, can generally be requested by anyone who has witnessed the situation that you are in, such as friends, family, or the police. Even though almost anyone can initiate the process, most states do require either medical evaluation or court approval in order to ensure that you meet that particular state's criteria.

Emergency detentions vary from state to state but most often limited to 24-48 hours before a civil commitment proceeding must be initiated. However, some states have longer detention periods that can range from four to 10 days, depending on the state in which you live.

Can Someone Who Has Been Committed Refuse Treatment?

Even if a person has been committed in emergency detention, this does not mean that they will be forced to undergo treatment, except for treatments required on an emergency basis designed to calm them or stabilize a medical condition. This does not include medications to specifically treat the mental illness (such as giving antidepressants).

In order to make a person take medications for mental illness or go through therapy, that person would need to be declared incompetent to make their own decisions—a separate process from that of short-term commitment.

Longer Commitments

Commitments for longer periods of time generally have more stringent requirements than an emergency detention, but again are for limited periods of time and cannot be extended without the proper procedures being followed.

Typically, the maximum length of long-term commitment is six months depending on the state, after which a reassessment must be made before the commitment is extended.

To learn more about your own state's laws regarding involuntary commitment, it may be helpful to consult the Treatment Advocacy Center, which provides a state-by-state review of all relevant laws.

Hospitalization for Depression

A discussion about whether or not you can be committed for being depressed and suicidal wouldn't be complete without talking about what really happens if a person is hospitalized for depression. When simply talking about "commitment" it might sound almost like a prison sentence, but in actuality, when a commitment is considered the goal is to help a person, not restrict their rights as a human being. It is not a punishment, but rather, usually shows compassion and caring on the part of the person talking about emergency detection. Certainly, this is not always the case, and this is where the involvement of a medical professional or judicial approval is important.

Severe depression is, unfortunately, far too common. Being hospitalized for depression may be the best step in getting help before you make any decisions you could later regret. While in the hospital, a person who is depressed will have the opportunity to meet with a psychiatrist or psychologist, a social worker, and participate in individual and/or group therapy.

It is likely that these treatments are behind the finding that emergency detention for people with severe mental illness is associated with a lower mortality rate (fewer deaths) and an improvement in the quality of life for those who are committed.

Bottom Line

For the most part, family members, friends, or the police can recommend short-term emergency detention (commitment) for a person who is in danger of hurting others or himself as in the case of being suicidal. The exact requirements, however, vary from state to state, as does the amount of time a person may be committed.

To prevent commitment without just cause (as could be the case in some situations,) either the opinion of a medical professional or judicial approval is often also needed. Longer commitments are a different process with more stringent requirements.

Even if a person is committed short-term, they usually have the right to refuse treatments (such as medications for psychiatric conditions) other than those which are needed to calm a person or treat emergent medical conditions.

While emergency commitment can sound very frightening, the goal is to allow a person who is not coping well with mental illness to get the help needed to get past the crisis at hand.

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Article Sources

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