Legal Protections For Mental Health Clients Losing Ground In California

I’ve seen what is going on in California happen in Virginia and, honestly, I’d say there is much good cause for grave concern. This kind of attention can only mean a much worsened situation legally is on the way for people impacted by the psychiatric system in that state. A task force has been set up over a law that protects the rights of people threatened by the mental health system that some people would like to see overturned. A story on the matter has appeared in the LA Times, Task force seeks to change California’s mental health commitment law.

The irony is that they are using the example of Thomas Kelly, a young man brutally beaten to death by the police, as a excuse to give the authorities more power to lock people up for psychiatric labels. I’ve noticed elsewhere where his case was being used to expand the reach of Laura’s Law, California’s involuntary outpatient commitment law. This is a sad situation indeed. Imagine using the example of a man beaten to death by the police as an excuse to strengthen that police power, and to take the rights of people facing commitment procedures away from them. Doing so is certainly not going to prevent police officers from beating more unarmed civilians to death.

California’s pioneering Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, passed in 1967, gave legal rights to those who previously could have been locked up indefinitely and treated against their will. But the task force — made up of family members, mental health professionals, judges and public defenders — contends that the law has failed those unable or unwilling to seek help.

A report has been issued, but this report has been criticized as notably lacking in the voice of the people actually under threat, the psychiatric treatment consumer and survivor clients of mental health services in the state of California.

The self-appointed group recently released its report after 30 months of study. And some of its recommendations are likely to receive broad consensus. Among them: consistent application of the law statewide, interagency coordination to ensure that patients are promptly placed in appropriate hospitals, availability of crisis stabilization services in every county, and standardized training for police and others who respond to those in need.

The argument we are getting is that these people are being treated in the criminal justice system instead of the mental health system. I certainly don’t think that such a development would be a good excuse to reverse the trend towards deinstitutionalization that we have been seeing across much of the world. I would argue instead for spending more money on community care, and for utilizing some kind of jail diversion plan when it comes to people with psychiatric labels impacted by the criminal justice system.

Apparently there are two schools of thought involved in this debate; unfortunately the impetus behind any action of this sort is likely to favor the second camp mentioned in the following paragraph.

One camp, which includes client organizations and advocates, asserts that only voluntary care can truly be effective. The other, dominated by medical professionals and family members, says illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often make sufferers incapable of the insight needed to engage in care voluntarily.

While much of the rhetoric coming from the camp comprised mostly of medical professionals and family members claims not to favor involuntary treatment, this kind of action could only involve the promotion of, and support for, stiffer laws and increased intolerance when it comes to the eccentricity, non-conformity, and different behaviors that could get a person imprisoned, restrained, labeled, drugged, electro-shocked and otherwise harmed by the psychiatric system against that person’s will and wishes.