Laws surrounding mental illness make it harder for victims to get treatment

Regarding your recent editorial "Mental Illness and guns" (Oct. 23), I appreciate your view that mental illness and the need for early intervention are issues that must be considered separately from the issue of gun control.

As the parent of an adult child with mental illness, I am all too familiar with the shortfalls in the mental health system and the laws surrounding mental illness that leave me powerless to help someone I love. Laws to allow assisted outpatient treatment can make a big difference. However, the threshold for involuntary treatment still stands in the way.

My daughter is extremely bright, earned an advanced degree and had a promising career in human resource management. About nine years ago, however, she spiraled out of control. She suffers from a psychotic illness but does not believe she is seriously ill and so cannot be in the vicinity of her 9-year-old son as a result of the disturbing behaviors she has exhibited, including kidnapping. As a result she is now homeless.

Because of her belief that she is not ill, she chose to plead guilty to a felony rather than choose the option of not guilty by reason of insanity, which would have resulted in involuntary commitment and treatment in a mental hospital. It was her legal option to decide whether she was mentally ill, and because she is an adult, I am not able to get her into the treatment she so desperately needs on my own.

Because she does not believe she is ill, she is distrustful of family members who have tried to help and chosen instead what seems to any normal person to be an unacceptable way of life. Kidnapping, for example, does not meet the current threshold for involuntary treatment. In this ways, the laws encourage homelessness over viable treatment options.

Understanding that the seriously mentally ill cannot make reasonable decisions and choices for themselves is an important first step. It is critical for lawmakers to know that many of us desperately want to get a loved one evaluated and potentially hospitalized before something worse happens, but the laws stand in our way.

Kathleen Branch, Hanover

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