Forced Treatment for the Mentally Ill Shown to Have Benefits, but is it Acceptable?

According to Time Magazine, involuntary psychiatric treatment is effective at keeping mentally ill people out of emergency rooms, homeless shelters, and prisons. Court-ordered outpatient treatment also saves a significant amount of tax dollars, according to a study by Health Management Associates, but it raises the question of whether it's ethically right to force people to accept treatment, even when it's beneficial to both the individuals and society as a whole.

Assisted Outpatient Treatment programs, which were the study's focus, are specifically designed to stabilize people who suffer from serious mental disorders. This helps them function in society and keeps them from ending up in hospitals, homeless shelters, or jail. Assisted Outpatient Treatment is technically in place in 46 states, but many haven't actually implemented the programs. Part of the delay is hesitancy over letting judges force people into psychiatric treatment against their wishes.

Higher Risks for the Mentally Ill

There's no easy answer to the ethical question, but statistics show that people with mental disorders end up homeless or in jail at a much greater rate than other members of the population. Time reports that only four percent of Americans have symptoms of a serious mental illness, yet 15 percent of state prisoners, 24 percent of jail inmates, and 30 percent of the chronically homeless are mentally ill. If you have a mental disorder, you're also almost 12 times more likely to fall victim to violent crime and eight times more likely to commit suicide.

If you have a mentally ill family member who resists treatment, you can get support for yourself even if you cannot force that person to get help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great place to start. It offers information to those who are struggling with mental illness, their family members, friends, and caregivers. You can learn more about specific mental disorders on helpful websites like WebPsychology.