EDMOND — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly series of columns written by attorneys at Lester, Loving & Davies law firm in Edmond.
Q: If I am worried about a person who needs treatment for a mental condition, how can I see that he gets help?
A: We have all seen recent examples of the impact mental health disorders can have on public safety. Many of us have friends or family members who may display indications of mental disorders or substance dependency. Sometimes we even worry that such conditions might lead to violent behavior. What can we do, as individuals, to help people needing treatment be evaluated?
People may voluntarily submit themselves for mental health or substance abuse evaluation or treatment. But if the person is unwilling to seek help, what can the rest of us do? Oklahoma has detailed laws regarding the involuntary admission of people in need of mental health or substance abuse treatment to facilities for evaluation and treatment. Because the laws differ for adults and minors, we will focus on what can be done for adults.
The law generally defines a person requiring treatment as one, who because of his mental illness or substance dependency, poses a significant and immediate threat of harm to himself or others, or is unable to provide for his own basic needs. So, if you know a person in such condition, what can you do to help him and protect others?
In an emergency situation, you should contact the police. By law, if a peace officer reasonably believes that a person requires treatment, the officer must take him to an appropriate facility for an initial assessment and, if deemed necessary, further evaluation. If the mental health professionals determine that evaluation or treatment is necessary, the person may be kept in the facility against his will for up to five business days. Further involuntary commitment requires a court order.
Family members, district attorneys, peace officers and mental health professionals treating a person may petition a court for an order of involuntary commitment for mental health or substance abuse treatment. Of course, the person alleged to be in need of treatment has many rights at trial. He has the right to an attorney. He can demand a jury trial. If a court determines that a person is in need of treatment because he poses a real threat to himself or others or is unable to provide for his own basic care due to his mental condition or substance dependency, the judge can confine the person for longer-term treatment.