Involuntary commitment  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Involuntary commitment is the practice of using legal means or forms as part of a mental health law to commit a person to a mental hospital, insane asylum or psychiatric ward against their will and/or over their protests.

Many countries have mental health laws governing involuntary commitment. Some, such as the United States, require a court hearing if the individual is hospitalized more than briefly. In most states, police officers and designated mental health professionals can require a brief commitment of an individual for psychiatric evaluation. If the individual is evaluated as needing further hospitalization, a court order must be obtained. Doctors, psychologists and/or psychiatrists present written reports to the court and in some cases testify before the judge. The person who is involuntarily hospitalized, in most U.S. jurisdictions, has access to counsel. A commitment is always time-limited and requires reevaluation at fixed intervals. It is also possible for a patient to challenge the commitment through habeas corpus. This was the case in a famous United States Supreme Court decision in 1975, O'Connor v. Donaldson, when Kenneth Donaldson, a patient committed to Florida State Hospital, sued the hospital and staff for confining him for 15 years against his will. The decision means that it is unconstitutional to commit for treatment a person who is not imminently a danger to himself or others and is capable to a minimal degree of surviving on his own.

Some individuals and groups have challenged involuntary commitment, particularly in countries that are part of the Anglo-American judicial tradition. There have also been allegations that at certain places and times the practice of involuntary commitment has been used for the suppression of dissent, or in a punitive way. There have been alternating trends towards the abolition or substantial reduction of involuntary commitment via stricter standards for its imposition, and the greater use of involuntary commitment with more lax standards for its imposition.

In 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that involuntary hospitalization and/or treatment violates an individual's civil rights in O'Connor v. Donaldson. This ruling forced individual states to change their statutes. For example, the individual must be exhibiting behavior that is a danger to himself or others in order to be held, the hold must be for evaluation only and a court order must be received for more than very short term treatment or hospitalization (typically no longer than 72 hours). This ruling has severely limited involuntary treatment and hospitalization in the U.S. In the U.S. the specifics of the relevant statutes vary from state to state.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Involuntary commitment" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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