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Mental Health Laws And Their Limitations, Line Gets Blurry

Mental Health Laws And Their Limitations, Line Gets Blurry

Mental health law applies to individuals who have been diagnosed as mentally ill. It is mainly used for managing psychiatric disorders such as psychosis and developmental disabilities where the person is not capable of acting in his or her own interest. Many individuals that are diagnosed as mentally ill are in treatment while others refuse treatment yet most of them have few or no problems living on their own.

Society as a whole seems to have decided that mentally ill individuals are dangerous and that police response is appropriate. This view is enforced by such tragedies as the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a Colorado movie theater, at the Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, and many others.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in O’Connor v. Donaldson, 1975, that an individual must present a danger to himself or others before they can be detained. When a situation involving a mentally ill person escalates, it is left to the police to decide whether that individual is a danger. For example, at the Pedersen’s home in Simi Valley, CA., the mother’s adult mentally ill son went to the front yard and began shouting religious epithets.

His mother called the police. When the son noticed the officers approaching he ran into the house and locked himself in his room. After the police broke down the bedroom door, the son

mental health law
Virginia Tech Vigil. Photo credit here.

charged them with a pocketknife and was shot. The son spent the next ten days in a hospital and then was taken to jail.

In the summer of 2012, an Italian mother of two daughters went to England for a training course. She was pregnant with her third child at the time, and her daughters remained in the care of their grandmother in Italy. While at the hotel in Essex, the mother had a panic attack when she could not locate her daughters’ passports and called the police. When they arrived, the officers took her to a mental institution where she was detained.

Five weeks later, while under sedation, she was taken to a hospital where a daughter was delivered by caesarean section. The child was immediately taken into the care of social services. A High Court judge ruled that the child must be placed for adoption because there was no way to ensure that she would take her medication in the future.

In the above two cases, neither of the individuals were violent. The Pedersen’s son only became violent after being confronted with police officers breaking down his bedroom door while having a psychotic episode. Over the years, all over the world, mental health laws have failed mentally ill individuals and, in some cases, abused their civil rights.

Featured pic for mental health laws found here.