Unfortunately, the rather detailed story that appeared in the Washington Post is all too familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention. Man is suffering from mental illness, possibly delusional, but refuses to get treatment. What is a family to do? The law says you can’t have someone involuntarily committed until they prove to be “a danger to themselves or others”, but how can we sit and wait for someone to prove their dangerous? Usually the proof comes when it’s too late to avoid some sort of violent act.
The story lays out a pretty good case for a change in those laws, but looking at it from the other side, and if you read any of the comments you’ll see that laid out as well, there were reasons we changed the laws regarding involuntary commitment back in the 70s. Families using mental institutions to “treat” family members who weren’t truly sick, or leaving family members in horrible conditions, institutional mistreatment, or simply abusing the “power” to commit family members to manipulate the behavior of innocent adults. Those are all, obviously, dangers to allowing any sort of involuntary commitment.
Still, when you stop to consider the number of homeless who are suffering from untreated mental illness, or stories like this one, where a family has to wait for someone to get worse before they can get them help, it’s hard not to think that we need a different standard that the current one. I don’t know what that standard is, but I’m glad to see someone having the conversation.