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Those in favor of forcing psychiatric treatment on people say, “It’s for their own good.” This sounds well intentioned but does not have any bearing on whether involuntary treatment is actually successful at helping most people. Here we will explore several key problems with involuntary treatment.

1) There is no reliable process in deciding who to commit. Studies have shown that doctors cannot accurately predict who will make a suicide attempt or commit a violent crime. This results in the doctors having to make a judgment call, and they typically err on the side of caution when deciding who to commit since they are at risk of legal liability and/or losing their medical license if an individual were to leave the hospital and hurt themself or others.

2) Forced psychiatric treatment is discriminatory. Psychiatric patients are the only ones who have treatment forced on them. People struggling with emotional distress deserve the same respect all other human beings do. People in favor of forced treatment argue that discrimination is justified in order to prevent violent acts; however, studies show that more than 90 percent of people with a psychiatric diagnosis have no history of violence. Unfortunately, the media promotes violent cases when they do occur, skewing public perception.

3) Psychiatric patients’ perspective is rarely believed. Psychiatric patients are not considered credible witnesses to their own experience. In fact, the medical term “anosognosia,” originally a condition applied to amputees who believed their limbs were still attached, has been extended to apply to psychiatric patients who do not believe they are ill. Rather than trusting the patient in a psychiatric interview, doctors usually call upon the patient’s family members or another third party to obtain information about the patient.

4) Involuntary confinement undermines the patient-doctor relationship. Faced with the possibility of never escaping their confinement, many individuals report lying to their doctors in order to manipulate treatment outcomes. The power dynamic disrupts the possibility for an authentic human-to-human connection, which is critical in healing from emotional distress. The late Judi Chamberlin, one of the first human rights activists against involuntary treatment, explained that the system can actually make matters worse. “The elimination of individual agency can make people “institutionalized” where they lose the confidence in their own ability to care for themselves and come to depend on the system to care for them.”

5) Confinement is not effective as a treatment tool. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, there is no evidence whatsoever that psychiatric hospitalization prevents future suicide attempts.

6) Involuntary psychiatric hospitalization is physically and psychologically traumatizing. Individuals often seek out hospitals for help only to be shocked at what they receive. The environmental conditions are not conducive to healing, thus increasing emotional distress. Being restrained, left in seclusion, and forced onto drugs is traumatizing.

In addition to the trauma they endure, psychiatric survivors receive bills for treatments they didn’t request and often cannot afford.

While some reformists believe outpatient commitment, or forced drugging outside a hospital, offers a less restrictive alternative to confinement, studies have shown it is also ineffective at reducing hospital readmissions and rates of violence.

In short, involuntary treatment is unjust and damaging. But what can be done? In our next segment, we will share the most practical techniques on how to free yourself from involuntary treatment.


Watch the rest of the Voices for Choices series