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Involuntary Commitment

OPB | May 24, 2010 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:25 p.m.

Benny Lin 0724 via Flickr, Creative Commons

The family of Keaton Dupree Otis would like to see changes to the civil commitment law. Otis was fatally shot by Portland police on May 12 after he fired at officers from a car. His family said in a statement that Otis suffered from a mood disorder and they called for changes to the law when it comes to commiting someone for mental health treatment against his will. Specifically, the family said they’d like to see an expansion of the definition of “a danger to self or others,” which is one of the key criteria for involuntary commitment.

County mental health staff are responsible for conducting investigations into civil commitment requests when family or friends call for help with a loved one they think is suffering from a mental health crisis. The person conducting the investigation recommends a civil commitment hearing if they determine that someone is suffering from a mental illness and that that person is also a danger to themselves or others or unable to care for their own basic needs.

These criteria were adopted in Oregon in the early 1970s. Before that, it was relatively easy to have someone involuntarily committed to a mental institution and the practice was often abused. The debate about how to strike a balance between protecting patients’ rights and looking out for their wellbeing continues now, even decades later.

Does someone close to you suffer from a mental illness? Do you? Have you had experience with the civil commitment process? What was that like?

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