Friday, September 11, 2009

How We Currently Deal with the Violent Mentally Ill Here in Texas - The Short Term Involuntary Commitment

Under the current law for the State of Texas, patients who are "dangerous to themselves or others" can be civilly committed. And only those patients.

The Legal Balance is Freedom versus "Dangerous to Themselves or Others"

If facts can be placed into evidence that support the individual is "dangerous to himself or others," then the law allows their rights to freedom to be curtailed as they are involuntarily placed into a facility where they can receive assistance and support. However, we are a country that values freedom, and perhaps no state is more passionate about liberty, freedom, and the independence of the individual than Texas.

Legal Limitations on Involuntary Civil Commitments in Texas

Involuntary commitment flies in the face of the law's stringent protection of freedom. As well it should. Accordingly, limitations are placed upon civil commitments.

After being committed, the law allows these acutely ill patients to depart just two weeks later. During their commitment, they will have been seen by health care professionals and treated by therapy and medication. Hopefully, there will have been some success, and the individual patient is no longer a danger for suicide or homicide, or some other violence danger. They are then released, after only a short stay in a treatment facility.

What Happens After the Civil Commitment?

And, here's the rub. It may not be enough. Too many mentally ill patients complain that the medications that help them have unbearable side effects. They become sleepy, they feel like "zombies," they feel like they are living in a bubble. The result? They stop taking the drugs. Many start to self-medicate with illegal drugs or alcohol.

And soon, with a few weeks time, that same individual is once again a serious threat to himself, or others, and we're back to square one and hoping that no one is hurt or killed before this sick person -- suffering from an illness -- can get real, substantive treatment.

-- Judge Tom Rickhoff