Health professionals treating mentally ill patients often attempt to commit patients to psychiatric hospitals. When the patient will not agree, the doctor may consider involuntary commitment. This is generally considered at the insistence of the family. In recent decades, the United States Supreme Court has limited the circumstances where a person can be committed to a mental hospital against their will. Despite these rulings, the civil rights remain under attack. The public bodies often perceive those who suffer from a mental instability as a danger to society and want them separate from the community (Wahl, 1995, p. 1). Throughout this paper, I will detail the current system that governs involuntary commitment. I will also discuss the history and significance of that policy, and the key issues surrounding that policy. I will finally discuss the steps that are required to protect the civil rights of the mentally ill.
The Mentally Ill and their Civil Rights
The system that governs involuntary commitment has its origin in the judiciary system. The U.S. Supreme Court began reshaping the mental health laws during the 1960s, during the civil rights revolution, which conferred equal rights under the law to the American people. Though not a regular minority, the mentally unstable became viewed as a disadvantaged group that had suffered at the hands of the majority. That attitude is reflected in the Court's decisions and in their approach to involuntary commitment. Also reflected in the current policy is society's error over numerous shocking stories about people abandoned in mental institutions for decades.
The Court first extended the civil rights guarantees for mental health patients facing commitment in the case of Specht v. Patterson, in 1967. The Court ruled that involuntary commitment to a mental institution "is a deprivation of liberty which the State cannot accomplish without due process." (The Courts have since reaffirmed that...