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Lawmakers: Don’t Pass New Involuntary Commitment Bills Without Funding

Lawmakers: Don't Pass New Involuntary Commitment Bills Without FundingNothing angers me more than when the media — and the public — come down on those with a mental illness when we hear of another violent mass shooting. The vast majority of shootings and deaths in America are due to the ease-of-access to a handgun, and simply knowing the person you’re going to kill (as most murders are conducted by people known to the victim). Mental illness does not enter into the picture in most homicides.

Well, wait a minute… There is one thing that angers me more than attributing a higher rate of violence to someone with mental illness. And that’s feel-good but idiotic lawmakers across the country passing a new round of involuntary commitment bills in their state — but leaving out any additional money to help fund these efforts.

Apparently common sense doesn’t enter into a lawmaker’s head when they author or lobby for the passage of such bills.

It seems even more idiotic I have to write an article about this. It makes little sense to burden your already over-burdened and under-funded public mental health system in your state with more laws and paperwork that will send even more patients their way, but do nothing to help them deal with the added burden.

Case in point: Washington state. A supposed bastion of liberalism that recently legalized marijuana, Washington apparently thinks nothing of its social service safety net. The bill? An effort to beef up the state’s involuntary commitment laws. And when I say “beef up,” I really mean, make it easier for ordinary citizens like you or I to be involuntarily committed within the state.

Right now, some people believe it’s “hard” to get involuntarily committed in Washington state. Here’s what the current law requires:

A person can be detained on any of three grounds: likelihood of serious harm to others; likelihood of serious harm to self; or most commonly, grave disability. Grave disability is defined as a condition in which a person, as a result of a mental disorder (a) is in danger of serious physical harm resulting from a failure to provide for his or her essential human needs of health or safety, or (b) manifests severe deterioration in routine functioning evidenced by repeated and escalating loss of cognitive or volitional control over his or her actions and is not receiving such care as is essential for his or her health or safety. […] A person can be detained by a Designated Mental Health Professional for up to 72 hours without a court order. The 72 hours does not include weekends or legal holidays.

That sounds about right, and on par with many state’s involuntary commitment criteria. The new law wants to make it easier for family members to appeal when the state declines to involuntarily commit someone. This would allow family members to second-guess objective, third-party mental health professionals who have conducted an extensive clinical interview with the person standing for commitment.

Does that sound wise, in any manner, shape or form?

I understand it can be frustrating when we believe a family member is clearly acting against their best interests. But in America, that’s a person’s right — you’re allowed to be as crazy as you want, as long as you’re not a danger to yourself or others.

And it’s not like it’s not bad already in Washington state. A 2012 report on psychiatric inpatient beds in the state noted that due to legislative changes in the past decade, the state needs dozens of new beds. Which aren’t there.

Which means that even if you do try and commit someone in Washington, everybody is scrambling for a bed for that person (especially in some areas of the state).

And this pattern is repeated again and again, throughout the entire United States.

In Wyoming, the state wants to speed up the commitment process, by reducing how long it takes a patient to be evaluated and a decision made about commitment. Speeding up a process sounds good, right? Well, in the case of involuntary commitment, maybe not so much. The patient may have family or an existing doctor or therapist who could help weigh in on the matter.1

If the process is sped up, it may be that those people may not be able to be reached or make a hearing in time to help the person defend themselves against such a commitment.

The ACLU is calling into question the state’s attempt to update its involuntary commitment laws as well:

“Specifically, from the very start, one of the things it does is it really weakens any kind of due-process protections that people have,” Burt said. “When you’re talking about an emergency detention for mental health care, you’re talking about someone’s liberty interest. You’re taking them away from their home, from their family from their job, you are forcibly detaining them, and there needs to be some very strict due-process protections in order to ensure that the detention meets the criteria of the law.”

And is Wyoming, like Washington, going to increase the state’s budget for mental health services to help cover these efforts?

Of course not.


For further reading

Wyoming: ACLU questions involuntary commitment changes

Washington: Some mental-health officials oppose commitment bill

Lawmakers: Don’t Pass New Involuntary Commitment Bills Without Funding


  1. I have to note idiot lawmaker Rep. Keith Gingery’s justification for the new law in Wyoming: “With mass shootings going on and those type of events, many states across the nation are trying to improve their statutes that deal with people that have mental illness and making sure that the state resources are made available to them in their time of need,” Gingery said in a recent interview, according to the Washington Times. The paper also noted that Gingery said in the aftermath of many mass shootings and similar situations, it becomes apparent that the person had some kind of contact with the state beforehand and that the system failed the individual. Umm, yeah, but apparently you didn’t get the message that a lot of times the person didn’t have contact. Or they had contact, and the system decided the person wasn’t really a danger to himself or others. Laws can’t change a human’s ability to hide their intentions. Or magically make mental health professionals better psychics. []

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Lawmakers: Don’t Pass New Involuntary Commitment Bills Without Funding. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 5 Feb 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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