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Alison Hymes describes a battle for human rights in the mental health system in Virginia that she says could impact other states.


Alison Hymes describes herself as a “Token” Member of the Commitment Taskforce of the Chief Justice’s Commission on Mental Health Law Reform, for the Commonwealth of Virginia.


Virginia Citizens With Psychiatric Labels Under Siege

by Alison Hymes

Although those who live outside of Virginia could easily assume that the assault on the civil rights of people with psychiatric labels in Virginia started with the tragedy at Virginia Tech., that is not the case.

The assault on our rights started in fact with the creation of a Commission on Mental Health Law “Reform” by our state’s Supreme Court Chief Justice in the Fall of 2006. This Commission has only two individuals who identify as mental health consumers or psychiatric survivors (consumer/survivors), and has five taskforces all with only token representation from consumer/survivors, none of whom were chosen by the state’s consumer network but instead chosen by the Chair of the Commission, Richard Bonnie of the University of Virginia’s Institute on Law and Psychiatry in consultation with the Chief Justice of our state Supreme Court.

The Commission has as its goal the deprivation of what little civil liberties consumer/survivors in this state have now, although of course that is not what is being stated in public.

What people outside of Virginia need to know is this is not just the usual attack on the right of people to be drug-free in their own homes, fighting so-called Kendra’s Law. Nor is this just fighting for the right to be free of involuntary hospitalization, to prevent lowering the standard for commitment which is already so loose that only 9% of commitment hearings end in dismissal.

This is also an attack on:

  • the very little confidentiality left in this state
  • an attempt to get rid of independent evaluators in the commitment process
  • an attempt to lengthen the initial detention stay
  • an attempt to use conditional release (forced drugging) on civilly committed individuals for the first time legally in this state
  • an attempt to have the state pay for attorneys to represent family members and other petitioners in commitment hearings, and
  • an attempt to force people into coercive so-called voluntary hospitalization by threatening a longer stay if they do not “volunteer.”

In fact, the chair of the Commission would like to have as few actual commitment hearings as possible and have most people “agree” to either outpatient commitment or inpatient stays before they ever have a hearing.

What happens in Virginia is being looked at by other states very closely. So please watch out for what is happening in your own state legislature and please send whatever good thoughts or prayers you can to consumer/survivors in Virginia in our fight to retain any of our civil liberties.

I want to especially thank Jim Gottstein of PsychRights for his generous and valuable assistance in our fight against these erosions of our civil rights over the last year.

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