What are my options for caring for a loved one who won't get treatment? Can I have them involuntarily committed?

Getting a court order for involuntary hospitalization of an adult with mental illness is complex and varies from state to state. The system is designed to balance the need to provide treatment in the least restrictive environment with protection of the civil liberties of the person who is in crisis. Balancing the urgent need for treatment with the person’s basic civil rights can be controversial and difficult. Seeking involuntary hospitalization of a family member, without having it damage family relationships or the self-esteem of the person can be challenging.

At some point you may need to explore the option of securing some level of legal Guardianship for your loved one. Guardianship — also, referred to as conservatorship — is a legal process, utilized when a person can no longer make or communicate safe or sound decisions about their person and/or property or has become susceptible to fraud or undue influence. Because establishing a guardianship may remove considerable rights from an individual, it should only be considered after alternatives to guardianship have proven ineffective or are unavailable.

Be aware that this can be a lengthy process that will require time, legal representation, and financial resources. Guardianship laws vary by state, and in many cases by the locality in which you may be seeking Guardianship. For more information on the guardianship process, the National Guardianship Association provides a helpful guide.

If you wish to move in this direction, the Special Needs Alliance is an organization that provides additional information on the Guardianship process as well as legal referrals to attorneys skilled in this area.

You might find the Guide to Psychiatric Crisis and Civil Commitment Process, developed by our NAMI Virginia State Organization, extremely helpful. It explains every step of the process. (Keep in mind that this is reflective of Virginia Commonwealth’s laws regarding involuntary commitment.) You will want to investigate the laws applying to the state in which you are living. The Treatment Advocacy Center maintains a section of its website dedicated to Civil Commitment Laws in Each State.

A final thought – you may want to reach out to your local NAMI Affiliate to ask if there is a family member in your community who has gone through the guardianship process and who would be willing to share with you their experience and answer questions you may have about the process. To find your nearest NAMI Affiliate, click on your state through the Find Your Local NAMI menu.

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