What is Involuntary Commitment?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Involuntary commitment involves placing a person in a mental hospital against his or her will due to an urgent need of care. People placed in involuntary commitment typically suffer, or at least appear to suffer, from disorders or other factors that hinder their judgment. To be committed, a mental health professional or law enforcement officer must usually determine that the person cannot continue to operate in the world without immediate psychiatric evaluation. For example, a person who expresses a clear desire to harm himself or herself or others might experience involuntary commitment until health professionals decide that he or she is no longer a threat. Involuntary commitment is the source of much controversy and debate, with some people believing it should be abolished and others believing it should have less strict standards in order to involuntarily treat more people.


The procedure to commit someone against her will is rarely a simple one and differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Normally, the person exhibits signs of being mentally ill, and a friend, family member, or other concerned citizen brings this to the attention of the local law enforcement or emergency medics to evaluate the situation. If the officers or medics decide to commit the person, she is usually committed for observation for hospital staff to witness the signs for themselves. At this point, the person may be offered legal help and eventually released if she seems sound of mind or is kept for treatment and evaluated on a routine basis until she seems sound of mind or no longer wants to do harm. Sometimes a court order is obtained for the person’s commitment or continued commitment, and hospital staff must submit written reports to justify their actions.

The most common reason for involuntary commitment revolves around concerns about a person’s mental issues or instability, leading him to cause harm. What causes the mental disorder of a particular person does not usually matter, just that it is probable for the person to cause harm to himself or others. Many jurisdictions define how to identify when someone should be contained differently, but the general idea is to contain a person who does not have the mental capacity to prevent himself from causing harm and is likely to do so due to the nature of his incapacity.

There is much disagreement and concern regarding the various processes of involuntary commitment. Some people are concerned about involuntary processes in the context of free speech, as the expositions of those who are committed involuntarily are often used against them to hold them against their will. Others simply oppose the concept of holding someone against her will or think that those fighting their involuntary commitment in a legal setting are too quickly and easily discredited. Some take the opposite stance and feel that many laws regarding involuntary commitment do not go far enough, citing instances where people were released and went on to cause harm to society thereafter.


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Post 2

Is it possible to civilly commit a person for the rest of his life? Is it legally possible for a doctor/judge to commit someone forever?

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