What to do When a Loved One Suffers from a Mental Illness
Do you have a loved one that has threatened to harm himself or herself, or threatened to harm someone else? Do you have a loved one whose condition is deteriorating to the point where they are no longer able to take care of themselves? This can include they are no longer able to take care of their activities or their daily living needs, hygiene; they are refusing medication for high blood pressure or their heart medication; or they are refusing to see a doctor for a medical condition. If you answered yes to any of the above, you have two options that are available to you.
The first option is to call 911 and let the police know what is going on. Their job is to come out and evaluate the situation. Depending on what they find, they will either let you know that there’s nothing they can do, or they will take the person to a psychiatric emergency room, such as Green Oaks Psychiatric Hospital or Parkland Psychiatric Emergency Room. Once your loved one is in the hospital they will be evaluated by a psychiatrist.
The second option is to get a mental illness warrant. To obtain a mental illness warrant you must go through one of the following procedures:
1. You must fill out an application which will give details as to how your loved one meets certain criteria. Here is how to obtain the application:
- Go the mental illness clerk’s office located on the third floor of the Records Building in downtown Dallas
- They will direct you to the Mental Illness Court Liaison Dallas Metrocare Services
- Metrocare Services will then assist you in completing the application
Once the application is complete, a Judge will sign an Order of Protective Custody, if they are satisfied that the criteria has been met. You will receive instructions to take that Order to the basement of the Lew Sterrett building, which is where the Sherriff's Department is located. You have 14 days to act on that mental illness warrant. The Sheriff’s Department will not act on it immediately. They will hand you a piece of paper with a phone number on it. As soon as you know the location of your loved one, and someone is there to identify them, then you call the number given to you and the Sherriff’s Department will come to that location. Once your loved one is identified the Sherriff will pick them up and transport them to a psychiatric emergency room.
2. You can go to a Justice of the Peace and let them know you need to obtain a Magistrate’s Warrant for Emergency Detention. Before the warrant is issued you will need to complete the application, same as above. If the Justice of the Peace is satisfied that the criteria is met, they will issue the warrant. Once you have the warrant you can take it to the Sherriff’s Department, as stated above, or you can request the magistrate give it to the Constable. Whether it is given to the Sherriff’s Department or Constable, the procedure reflected above needs to be followed. Be aware that not all Magistrate’s may issue a Warrant.
Keep in mind whether you call 911 or fill out an application for a mental illness warrant, there has to be a recent over act of harm to self or others by your loved one, or that their condition is deteriorating to a point where they are no longer able to function or care for themselves. If the act happened 4, 5, 6, or 7 days ago and you didn’t want to make the call at that time, but since have thought about it and now you want to make the call, potentially it is too late. The act may be viewed as not being recent enough.
You have to be aware no matter which option you choose it’s not an easy thing to experience. If your loved one becomes aggressive or confrontational, or tries to fight, they will be restrained by whatever means necessary.
Once your loved one is taken to one of the psychiatric facilities with a psychiatric emergency room they will be evaluated by the emergency room psychiatrist. They can be held up to 23 hours in the emergency room. After that point the psychiatrist must determine whether or not they meet the criteria to be admitted to the hospital.
As soon as your loved one is taken to the psychiatric emergency room and the process begins, an attorney will be appointed to represent your loved one. Understand that regardless of the attorney’s opinions or beliefs regarding your loved one, they must advocate for your loved one. This means if your loved one says there is nothing wrong with them and they want to get out of the hospital, the attorney must advocate that position.
Within 72 hours your loved one has a right to a probable cause hearing. That hearing determines whether there was probable cause to have your loved one picked up and taken to the psychiatric facility and whether there continues to be probable cause to keep them at the psychiatric facility pending their commitment hearing.
The commitment hearing is scheduled within 14 days; however, it can be continued for up to 30 days. In reality, most of the psychiatric facilities will continue the matter if they feel that your loved one can be stabilized within that 30 day period and released without actually going to court for the commitment hearing. If your loved one is refusing medication or is not stabilizing quickly enough then the doctor will request the commitment hearing, at which time it is a full hearing.
During this hearing, the Doctor will get on the stand and testify as to why your loved one should remain in the hospital. Your loved one does have a right to attend the hearing and testify as to why they should be able to go home. After the Judge has heard all of the testimony, he or she will find whether or not your loved one is mentally ill, which criteria has been met and will name the psychiatric facility your loved one will be committed to for a period of time not to exceed 90 days. This does not mean that they will automatically be in the psychiatric hospital for 90 days, but they can be there for up to 90 days.
Although this is not all inclusive as to how the process works, it is the nuts and bolts of the commitment process. Even though the statutes are for Texas, the procedure varies from county to county.
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