Dear Attorney General Jeff Sessions,
I am writing in response to the NBC article reporting you stated that communities need an "involuntary commitment" option for the mentally ill. (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/justice-department/sessions-says-communities-need-involuntary-commitment-option-mentally-ill-n856961
As the mother of a 30-year-old son who has suffered with a serious brain disease most of his life, as a state and national advocate for mental healthcare reform, and as a native Alabamian, I couldn’t agree with you more. But what about providing funds for humane medical options for the “right to treatment” instead of the “right to die?"
In most states, including Alabama, for a person to be admitted to a hospital involuntarily, a judge must be persuaded that the patient is a threat to self or others. In other words, involuntary commitment requires a person to become dangerous in order to access even a 72-hour hold. The #1 roadblock to utilizing “involuntary commitment laws” is that no psychiatric hospital beds are available. I’m sure you're well aware that more people with serious brain diseases end up in Alabama’s jails than in Alabama's hospital beds.
Our state’s law enforcement officers have become our de facto medical providers but this is beyond their scope of practice. When my son was a younger, I kept the phone numbers of many medical providers to help us keep my son safe, and to help him remain in treatment so he could be successful at work, in school, and in the community. But sadly, once he became an adult and had rights to refuse treatment, my phone book filled up with the numbers of law enforcement, attorneys, and judges. Why must we criminalize people with brain diseases in order for them to access medical care?
Dorothea Dix would turn over in her grave if she could see how far we’ve come as a nation sending people to the moon and beyond, and how far we've fallen in terms of how we treat the sickest individuals among us. Too often the tragedies we read about are of people who cried out for help. However, the hands of families, law enforcement, and community mental health providers are tied until we change the "commitment laws criteria" and open more inpatient beds — not more jails or prisons. Parents like me are counting on you to turn the tide and stop the madness of the broken mental health system.
Please consider solutions stated by renowned author and mental health advocate DJ Jaffe: 1) Eliminate a Medicaid rule (IMD Exclusion) that prohibits states from using Medicaid funds for seriously mentally ill adults who need long-term hospitalization. 2) End the practice of requiring someone to become dangerous before their families can intervene to help them. We could do that by supplementing the standard — "danger to self or others" — by which we presently commit mentally ill people to health facilities to also include “need for treatment,” “grave disability” and “lack of capacity.” https://nypost.com/2018/03/17/facing-the-facts-about-violence-and-the-mentally-ill/
Thank you in advance for enforcing more humane options for those with brain diseases who deserve treatment not punishment. This is your job. My son and I are the people you work for.
Mother and Brain Health Advocate for Reform