Involuntary treatment refers to medical procedures undertaken without the consent of the person being treated. In 1975, the world finally got a peek into this traumatic experience through the award-winning feature film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Involuntary psychiatric treatment has become standard protocol in every hospital emergency department in the developed world. Very few people witness involuntary treatment firsthand — aside from healthcare professionals administering it and psychiatric survivors who have lived the experience.
Laws vary by state and country, but involuntary treatment typically begins when a doctor declares a person to be a danger to themself or a danger to others. Most people who are involuntarily treated have never committed a crime, specifically a violent crime, and doctors deem 95% of them a risk to themselves, not to others — and being a risk to oneself is far more ambiguous than having suicidal thoughts. In most places, the legal qualification of being a “danger to oneself” has expanded to include people deemed unable to care for themselves, described as “gravely disabled.”
In many cases, well-intentioned family members have brought their loved ones to hospitals and exaggerated their situation to make sure they get committed.
Once a person has been involuntarily committed to a hospital, a separate process usually regulates forced drugging. But even without a court order or prior approval, medical professionals commonly restrain and inject individuals with drugs to control undesired behavior.
Once an involuntary commitment begins, the circumstance tends to worsen any emotional distress the individual is experiencing, which then amplifies their outbursts and causes medical staff to respond in an amplified manner.
Involuntary commitment and forced drugging continue until a doctor determines the individual is fit to return to the community with the individual having no idea when it will end — or if it ever will.
Even after individuals get discharged from the hospital, similar threats from doctors keep them perpetually on psychiatric drugs. Doctors might even pit family members against one another to shame individuals into taking psychiatric drugs. Individuals are usually discharged on drugs, and those who wish to stop taking the drugs find their brains and bodies have become habituated to them.
Virtually no services or supports exist in the community to help individuals titrate safely off psychiatric drugs. As a result, many experience withdrawal and rebound psychosis, landing themselves back in the hospital — and the ex-patient is blamed, not the system.
The latest involuntary treatment tool is forced outpatient committal, also known as “assisted outpatient treatment,” or AOT. Individuals living in their homes on an AOT order are court-ordered to get monthly slow-release injections of psychiatric drugs, or take pills and receive regular blood tests to indicate whether they are taking them.
If an individual misses an appointment, he or she can be placed back in the hospital. In some cases, the police show up at the individual’s home and escort them to the clinic for their psychiatric drug injection if they have not kept their appointments.
As you can see, treatment is forced on people in multiple ways. Some would argue this is a necessary evil to help those who are unable to help themselves. In our next segment, we will explore how forced treatment might actually do more harm than good.
“LOVE IS” Written & produced by MARK STURGESS & ADAM CARVER
“SONATA NO. 2 IN B-FLAT MINOR, OP. 35” Written by FREDERIC CHOPIN Performed by ANDREAS XENOPOULOS