New York’s mental health involuntary commitment law is designed to help those with a mental health illness receive necessary treatment for their condition. If an individual refuses treatment, New York permits family members, friends or professionals that meet specific criteria to apply for involuntary commitment of an allegedly mentally ill individual. It takes several more steps, however, to actually hospitalize the individual for involuntary psychiatric treatment.
The Process for Involuntary Commitment
New York State Mental Health Hygiene Law section 9.27(a) states that the director of a hospital may receive and retain therein as a patient any personal alleged to be mentally ill and in need of involuntary care and treatment upon the certificates of two examining physicians, accompanied by an application for the admission of such person.
Section 9.27(b) describes 11 categories of persons who may request or submit an application for involuntary commitment of an individual. The list includes any person that lives with the allegedly mentally ill person, close family members, the court, the supervisor of a correctional facility, a treating psychiatrist and other professionals familiar with the individual’s lifestyle and behavior patterns. In order to be considered, the request must include written statements regarding the facts surrounding reasons for the request.
After the request is submitted, a person may be involuntarily committed if:
- Two physicians agree and present documentation that the person has a mental illness necessitating inpatient care and treatment
- The individual’s judgment is so impaired that he cannot understand the need for care and treatment
- He poses a substantial threat of harm to himself or others due to his mental illness, which may include the inability to meet his needs for food, shelter, clothing, and health care or dangerous conduct and noncompliance with mental health treatment programs
Oftentimes, the initial examination and request for involuntary commitment takes place in a hospital emergency department when patients accompanied by family members, law enforcement or other professionals present with concerning behaviors or appearance. If the hospital has inpatient psychiatric treatment facilities, a third evaluation is performed by a staff psychiatrist to confirm whether or not the individual meets state standards for involuntary commitment.
If the hospital lacks an inpatient psychiatric treatment program or the initial evaluation was performed outside of an emergency room, police or an ambulance may transport the individual to a psychiatric facility. If a psychiatrist confirms the need for commitment, an individual may be held for 60 days. After 60 days, treating physicians may request the court extend the commitment period and a judge may or may not grant the extension.
What to Expect During Involuntary Commitment
Persons undergoing inpatient psychiatric care follow an individualized treatment plan designed by their psychiatrist. It considers a patient’s medical, social and emotional needs. Physicians will explain any proposed medical treatment, medications and other measures designed to aid in recovery, such as group and individual therapy sessions. An individual’s state of mental health may require periods of seclusion or restraint, but these must be ordered by a treating physician and are usually limited measures taken during an emergency situation. Visiting hours are as scheduled but a patient may refuse to see someone if they desire. Telephone use and free time are allowed but generally restricted to certain times of the day. The focus is on restoring an individual to an improved state of mental health and the ability to function independently whenever possible.