If you found out that someone was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital, you might assume the person must have some serious mental health problems and needs to be removed from society to get some help. This is not the typical case. In fact, every 1 ¼ minutes, someone is
involuntarily committed so it is not logical that there are that many people out there that need to be
committed, or “Baker Acted,” as it is known in the state of Florida. Instead of this law protecting individuals, it poses a dangerous threat to anyone.
The Baker Act dictates that a person must have a mental illness and would not get treatment on his own. Further, without any treatment that person could cause bodily harm to himself and others based on his recent behavior, so that he needs to be forced into getting treatment. That is the
logic behind involuntary commitment. It sounds innocent enough, but in reality it doesn’t work.
The problem is who decides whether you are a danger to yourself or others?
Imagine having a fight with your neighbor who then calls the police and says you are dangerous and you are then picked up and put in a psychiatric facility. Imagine answering an ad because you feel depressed over the death of a loved one and someone shows up at your door telling you that you must go to a psychiatric hospital at once to get treatment. Imagine going to a psychiatrist for help with the stress of everyday life only to be committed because he has deemed it necessary. These are all instances of using the Baker Act in the name of “public safety.”
You may logically think these are examples of misunderstandings that could be sorted out easily. Not necessarily. A seventy-four year old man was asked if he was depressed by his home care nurse. Things weren’t looking particularly upbeat at the moment so he answered yes. He
was forced to go to a psychiatric hospital and he tried to explain it was a misunderstanding, but he was admitted as being suicidal without so much as a chance to make a phone call to someone who would really help him. When one and a half to two million people are involuntarily committed each year in the United States, one can only think there are many instances where someone is committed unnecessarily.
Whether in error or not, under the Baker Act or other involuntary commitment laws, you can be detained for seventy-two hours for observation. A lot can happen in those seventy-two hours. Dr. Thomas Szasz, Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus, states, “it [involuntary commitment] entails
far greater deprivation of rights than does incarceration in prison.”
Once admitted, despite having legal rights, you may not have the opportunity to exercise them before treatment is begun. You may be forced to take psychotropic drugs with horrendous side effects within that seventy-two hour period. Perhaps electro-shock is deemed necessary to change
that undesirable behavior. Whatever the case, it is more than likely legal as accountability isn’t clearly defined.
Criminals must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt but that is not the case when dealing with involuntary commitment. For example, if you experience brain damage or if you were committed based on false information, the psychiatrist is not liable. The only proof needed is that
statutory procedure was followed which favors the psychiatrist.
When one is Baker Acted in Florida, one has the right to informed consent which means you should be given a reason you are being admitted, what the treatment will be, its purpose, its benefits and side effects and what are the alternatives. You have the right to contact an attorney and
you should be given a copy of these rights upon being admitted. That doesn’t mean it will happen.
If a person is arrested by the police, the person is informed of his Miranda rights. If a person is aker Acted, he isn’t necessarily told of his rights. Mental health personnel ignore the laws as a
formality getting in the way of getting treatment for the patient. The problem is, if you don’t know you have these rights and no one tells you about them, then the invitation for them to be ignored is there and so is the opportunity for abuse.
One should also consider that a psychiatrist only treats symptoms and does not cure anything. There is no medical test such as an x-ray, blood test, MRI or anything else to prove that a “mental illness” or “mental disorder” exists in the body. It is ironic that a psychiatrist has the legal power to force you to receive treatment that could incapacitate you, yet his actions are not based on science. Yet this “expert” is the one that can judge you to be a danger to yourself or others in the name of “mental health care.”
It would be wise to get informed and know your rights so you don’t become one of the innocent people Baker Acted and mentally crippled.