A View From the Inside (of HCPC)

Okay, when last we left, you found yourself sitting in an appropriate Mental Health Facility, and you have just been admitted to temporary custody on the application of a person who believed you were suffering from a “mental illness”. You have no idea what to do, and you have no idea what your rights are in relation to your stay. That’s where I come in.

Now, first things first, you need to understand the reason for your stay. The purpose of an emergency detention is to determine if you are suffering from a mental illness and if as a result of the mental illness, you present a substantial risk of harm to yourself or others.

So you’re probably now asking yourself, what exactly constitutes a “mental illness”. The term “Mental Illness” as used in the Texas Mental Health Code is defined as an illness, disease, or condition, other than epilepsy, senility, alcoholism, or mental deficiency, that: (i) substantially impairs a person’s thought, perception of reality, emotional process, or judgment or (ii) grossly impairs behavior as demonstrated by recent disturbed behavior. Tex. Health & Safety Code § 571.003(14).

The first thing that will happen as you reach the facility is that you will be temporarily accepted to the facility for a preliminary examination. Therefore, you need to know your rights. And to that end you should know that if you are apprehended you have the following rights:

1. The Right to be advised of the location of detention, the reasons for detention, and the fact that the detention could result in a longer period of involuntary commitment.

2. The Right to a reasonable opportunity to communicate with and retain an attorney.

3. The Right to be advised that communications with a mental health professional may be used in proceedings for further detention.

This is important because you may be detained in custody for not longer than 24 hours after the time you are presented to the facility unless a written order for further detention is obtained. Once that 24 hours is up, and the physician has given you a preliminary examination, you may be admitted to the facility for emergency detention only if the physician makes a written statement that states that you are mentally ill; that you are evidencing a substantial risk of serious harm to yourself or others; that the described risk of harm is imminent unless you are immediately restrained; and that emergency detention is the least restrictive means by which the necessary restraint may be accomplished.

The written statement must also include a description of the nature of the person’s mental illness; a specific description of the risk of harm the person evidences that may be demonstrated either by the person’s behavior or by evidence of severe emotional distress and deterioration in the person’s mental condition to the extent that the person cannot remain at liberty; and the specific detailed information from which the physician formed the opinion.

If all goes well, the doctor will deem you to not be suffering from mental illness, and he will arrange for you to be released. If he does this, arrangements shall be made to transport you to the location of your apprehension; your residence; or another suitable location. The County will also foot the bill for this transportation.

At the end of the twenty-four hour detention period, you must be released unless you are detained under an Order for Protective Custody.

Next time we will find out just what happens under such an Order.

“(You Drive Me) Crazy” by Britney Spears

As you no doubt have realized, it appears that our friend Brit has some pretty serious mental health issues. What you probably haven’t realized is what that has to do with a Probate Blog. Well, that’s where I come in.

Actually, the situation Britney currently finds herself in directly relates to probate. Or at least it would if she resided in Harris County. This is because in Harris County, the Probate Courts are in charge of the so-called “Mental Health Docket”. Probate Courts Three and Four each have specific dockets that deal solely with involuntary commitment hearings, the subject of which, Britney currently finds herself. I have served as a court appoited attorney on the Mental Health Docket for four years now. So, I thought I would use this opportunity to talk a little bit about the procedures involved in a mental health commitment and give just a general background about Harris County’s Mental Health Department.

To start, I will discuss an involuntary commitment hearing. This is the kind of commitment that Britney’s mother used to get Britney admitted to the hospital for treatment. The first step in the process is usually the filing of what is called an Application for Emergency Detention. This is the document that applicants (such as Britney’s mom) fill out if they feel that someone they know is in need of immediate psychiatric care. The guidelines to such an application can be found in the Health and Safety Code, §§ 573.011. That section states that an adult may file a written application for the emergency detention of another person if the applicant has reason to believe and does believe that the person evidences mental illness; that the applicant has reason to believe and does believe that the person evidences a substantial risk of serious harm to himself or others; that the applicant has reason to believe and does believe that the risk of harm is imminent unless the person is immediately restrained; that the applicant’s beliefs are derived from specific recent behavior, overt acts, attempts, or threats; a detailed description of the specific behavior, acts, attempts, or threats. The applicant must also give a detailed description of the applicant’s relationship to the person whose detention is sought.

After filling out the Application, the applicant must then present the application personally to a judge or magistrate. The judge or magistrate shall examine the application and may interview the applicant. The magistrate will then review the application and determine if there reasonable cause to believe that the person evidences mental illness; the person evidences a substantial risk of serious harm to himself or others; the risk of harm is imminent unless the person is immediately restrained; and the necessary restraint cannot be accomplished without emergency detention.

Now in case you are thinking this is a swell way to temporarily dispose of your rowdy teenagers next weekend, the requirements for a substantial risk of serious harm are laid out in the next section. Such risk of harm may be demonstrated by the person’s behavior; or evidence of severe emotional distress and deterioration in the person’s mental condition to the extent that the person cannot remain at liberty.

If the magistrate is satisfied that such risk exists he will issue to an on-duty peace officer a warrant for the person’s immediate apprehension. The person apprehended will then be transported for a preliminary examination to the nearest appropriate inpatient mental health facility; or a mental health facility deemed suitable by the local mental health authority, if an appropriate inpatient mental health facility is not available.

And that is where Britney finds herself now. In an appropriate inpatient mental health facility. However, least any of you be disappointed should such a fate befall upon you, unlike Ms. Spears first class trip to Cedars-Sinai, Harris County does not provide 3 block long police motorcades on your way to the hospital. Unfortunately for us plebs, we merely get a luxurious ride in the back of a police cruiser. What can I say, it pays to be famous.

Next time I will delve into what happens upon arrival at such Mental Health facility and the rights and procedures afforded to all those under such Mental Health Warrants.