Civil commitment viewed from three perspectives: professional, family, and police.
J. R. Husted and A. Nehemkis,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
23(4): 533-46, 1995.
This study was designed to uncover differences in interpretation and implementation of civil
commitment laws. Such problems in interpretation may contribute to mentally ill persons remaining
untreated and potentially joining the thousands of homeless mentally ill persons in our communities
or the incarcerated mentally ill persons in our prisons and jails. The study examines differences in
the assessments of the severity of mental illness, and the appropriateness and judged feasibility for
commitment in different commitment categories, made by emergency room admitting personnel,
police officers, and families of mentally ill persons. The results demonstrate that police are
significantly less likely than families or mental health professionals to perceive mental disability or
a need for involuntary commitment on any grounds. Professional psychiatric staffs were much more
likely than the other two groups to consider commitment in all three cases as legally feasible. Family
ratings of appropriateness for commitment based on the presented symptomatology are similar to
those of professionals. However, they are significantly less likely than professionals to judge the
cases as legally feasible for commitment, and they interpret the laws similarly to the police raters in
believing that commitment laws will not allow involuntary hospitalizations. Consequences and
implications of these differences are discussed.