The Baker Act is the name of the mental health law in Florida and it covers all aspects of mental health including involuntary examination and commitment.  This is the law that is initiated to send a person against their will for involuntary examination at a psychiatric facility. 

This law applies to all persons in Florida no matter their age and once a person is in a psychiatric facility they are then subject to possible involuntary commitment via the court. If a facility decides they want to commit someone against their will they must file a petition with the court and very specific criteria must be met.  These criteria are:

394.467 Involuntary inpatient placement.

(1) CRITERIA.—A person may be ordered for involuntary inpatient placement for treatment upon a finding of the court by clear and convincing evidence that:

(a) He or she has a mental illness and because of his or her mental illness:

1.a. He or she has refused voluntary inpatient placement for treatment after sufficient and conscientious explanation and disclosure of the purpose of inpatient placement for treatment; or

b. He or she is unable to determine for himself or herself whether inpatient placement is necessary; and

2.a. He or she is incapable of surviving alone or with the help of willing and responsible family or friends, including available alternative services, and, without treatment, is likely to suffer from neglect or refuse to care for himself or herself, and such neglect or refusal poses a real and present threat of substantial harm to his or her well-being; or

b. There is substantial likelihood that in the near future he or she will inflict serious bodily harm on self or others, as evidenced by recent behavior causing, attempting, or threatening such harm; and

(b) All available less restrictive treatment alternatives that would offer an opportunity for improvement of his or her condition have been judged to be inappropriate.

When someone arrives at a psychiatric facility under the Baker Act, an adult can be held for up to seventy-two hours by law.  The law clearly dictates a specific protocol to protect patient rights, but that is not necessarily followed.  Depending on the facility, one may be treated as if one had no rights at all. For more information on the Baker Act process please go to this page, QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: INVOLUNTARY PSYCHIATRIC EXAMINATION UNDER THE BAKER ACT.

Back in the day, patients were put out of “danger” by placing them in strait jackets.  These aren’t obsolete by any means today, but it is more than likely that someone that is under an involuntary psychiatric hold will receive psychotropic drugs instead.  Imagine arriving at a psychiatric ward, getting an examination and being diagnosed with a few “mental disorders.”  Multiple psychotropic drugs may be given just to calm the patient down from their supposed “hysteria,” because it qualified as “emergency treatment.”  

This could happen within the first twelve hours upon arrival.  Imagine having a very logical reason for the “crazy” behavior that no one bothered to ask about.  Imagine being drugged with antipsychotics, which sedate you so heavily your behavior is now under “control” and you are no longer a threat to yourself or others according to the powers that be.  But then perhaps the side effects of the drugs kick in and more drugs are given to handle those side effects.   The seventy-two hours isn’t anywhere near close to expiring, yet you may not know where you are or what is going on due to the effects of the drugs.  

Needless to say, in the first seventy-two hours a lot can happen to a person who is being held involuntarily.  However, some people in office think that seventy-two hours isn’t long enough.  Rep. Gus Bilirakis convened a panel recently in Land-o-Lakes to discuss mental health and substance abuse issues.  In attendance was Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania who is also a clinical psychologist.   Murphy is the author of Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act which Bilirakis has co-signed. 

Critics of Murphy say that he assumes that mental illness and violence go hand in hand.  It seems he is ignorant of the connection between psychotropic drugs and violence, which at this point in time is well documented.  If he thinks violence is linked to mental illness, he must be talking about the ones already on psychotropic drugs who are experiencing those homicidal or violent side effects that are common.  If that is the case, then those people certainly don’t need to be Baker Acted.  They don’t need to spend any time in a psychiatric ward, let alone an extended time beyond seventy-two hours, as they would just be given more drugs. 

Murphy also said the seventy-two hour time limit doesn’t make clinical sense.  What does he mean by that exactly?  Is he implying that more time is needed to observe the patient and decide on a treatment?  A medical doctor would do that because he may need to do blood tests, MRIs, urine tests and the like, which could take a bit of time to do before he could diagnose the patient.  But psychologists and psychiatrists have no medical test whatsoever that identifies a “mental illness,” so what is he referring to?  

Instead of using science, they just note the symptoms, decide on a “disorder” and prescribe mind-altering drugs.  These days, this is done by most doctors and mental health professionals in under ten minutes, so there is no logical reason as to why Murphy thinks more than seventy-two hours is needed.  

Pasco City Sheriff Chris Nocco also agrees that seventy-two hours is not long enough.  He thinks that short a time period is like putting a band-aid on a gushing wound.  Sheriff Nocco probably has had experience in handling those that were Baker Acted, but it doesn’t make him an expert on mental health.  

About five years ago, a seven year old boy in Largo was Baker Acted right in his classroom.  The boy had such a severe tantrum that the students were evacuated.  The police arrived and it was the police that decided that the boy needed a mental health evaluation and took him to a psychiatric hospital.  

This is nothing short of outrageous.  Even worse, the mother was there at the same time as the police and she said she could have helped to handle her child’s behavior, but the police would not let her near him while they did their investigation.  She was able to ride with him on the way to the psychiatric hospital, but the boy spent the night there alone, scared out of his mind.  

This is not the first time the boy’s behavior was beyond unacceptable, but it’s not a reason to call the police.  The school could have released the boy to his parents and helped them get help outside the school.  It would have been better to suspend the boy or even expel him from school instead of calling the police.  Putting any child in a psychiatric ward alone is any parent’s nightmare. 

In addition to extending the seventy-two hour hold, the panel advocated for additional research to find effective ways to treat mental conditions.  Most people will agree that the present mental health care system of today doesn’t work.  Most will agree that people do have behavior problems and don’t have effective solutions.  With that in mind, the panel’s idea sounds good, but the truth of the matter is something else. 

What they should be doing with that “research” is look at all the horrific side effects of psychotropic drugs and find alternative treatments.  

The panel also advocated a need to teach the employees of the school district how to identify symptoms that may indicate mental illness in its earliest stages.  This is ridiculous!  That means all employees are instant mental health professionals and are going to screen your children for mental illness.  School employees are trained in education, not mental health.  Having teachers screen for “mental illness symptoms” is not based on anything scientific.  

The opportunities for misuse and disaster are unlimited if screening is implemented.  Imagine getting a note from school saying your daughter is showing signs of depression and it is recommended that she see a psychiatrist and get some Prozac.  This could be based on your daughter looking glum for a few days because she didn’t get invited to a birthday party.  Science or random? 

The Baker Act may have been written with good intentions, but today it is misused and unnecessarily used on a regular basis.  An extension of the seventy-two hour hold would be catastrophic at the very least.  Getting a thorough physical examination by a non-drug oriented doctor would be a smart start to get down to the bottom of the cause of one’s behavior. 

Being committed against one’s will is truly a violation of one’s rights.  Know your rights regarding the Baker Act and assert them if needed, as being Baker Acted could happen to anyone.  Knowing your rights and facts will help you from becoming a victim of psychiatry, instead of becoming a patient on psychotropic drugs.