In the 9/7/14 VCDL Update, the 12th item, “CNN: the real gun problem is mental health, not the NRA,” brought out some important comments from members.
One of the things mentioned in the article was a proposed law in California where any family member or police officer can have someone committed. That is such a bad idea, that words fail me.
All of the following is what one VCDL member, who has been an expert witness at hundreds of commitment hearings, wrote me:
Robbins states, “We need to adopt a nationwide standard for involuntary civil commitment, and that standard should be “need for treatment.” If a family member, law enforcement officer or mental health professional is concerned about the well-being of an individual, they should be able to have that individual held for a mental health evaluation.”
Comment: “need for treatment” as a standard for involuntary civil commitment, based on the opinion of a family member (what are their qualifications for expressing an opinion?) , or a law enforcement officer (their qualifications?), or mental health professional (based on what sort of information?) is totally, and utterly, absurd.
I was trained in psychiatry at Charity Hospital, and other facilities, in New Orleans. I then spent 20 years treating the most dangerous and violent and treatment-refractory cases in state hospitals in Louisiana and Virginia, including extensive forensic experience. I then spent 5 years working in an outpatient clinic in the VA system of care treating primarily Vietnam Veterans with PTSD/depression/bipolar disorder. I saw many cases involving dire need for treatment that were entirely appropriate for outpatient treatment. I also saw many cases where the opinions of family members or police officers were ill advised. I also saw many cases where the opinion of a mental health professional was influenced by so many factors that were entirely unrelated to the clinical condition of a patient that the opinions were of questionable applicability.
What Robbins advocates is utterly unacceptable from a mental health point of view, is completely abusive and oppressive towards individuals with treatable psychiatric symptoms, is entirely hostile towards military personnel and military veterans.
Robbins completely misses the following needs for public safety policy:
1) Living in a nation with liberty and freedoms demands that responsibility for each individual’s behaviors resides in each individual, regardless of their station in life, circumstances, mental status, or neurobiological condition.
2) The price of liberty includes freedom for individuals to make decisions and to choose actions, and that means allowing each individual sufficient social and cultural “wiggle room” that inevitably there will be some violent and aggressive behavior by some individuals, and it cannot be prevented because it is inevitable.
3) The mere presence of a sleep disturbance, anxiety or mood states, hallucinations, minority opinions about the meaning of life or reality, use of substances that some people might abuse, and personal history of violence (including military activities and domestic conflicts), must not be accepted as sufficient legal grounds for depriving individuals of their civil liberties. One such abrogation of civil liberty is involuntary civil commitment for psychiatric evaluation and treatment, and a higher bar for involuntary commitment than “need for treatment” has been recognized as appropriate for the last half century.
4) In most forensic cases that come before the courts in the USA, individuals with mental illnesses and substance abuse issues are determined to be responsible for the actions, aware of the nature and quality of those actions, and aware that society regards them as criminal behaviors that naturally result in unpleasant consequences. Since that fact is common knowledge to attorneys and psychiatric experts, why would the mere presence of a psychiatric diagnosis or using a substance that some people abuse be proposed as a reason for depriving an individual of their constitutional rights?
5) Living in a condition of social and civil liberties requires a higher level of individual responsibility, and adaptive coping, the price one has to pay to be free from life in a police state. That includes being responsible for holding oneself to appropriate behavioral norms as well as being responsible for one’s own self-defense and self-support.
6) The only information we can allow ourselves to take into account, when issues of involuntary confinement arise, is “what has each individual already done”? What have they already shown us? Is there a pattern of behaviors we should be concerned about, and , if so, why?
7) If some demographic groups demonstrate socially unacceptable behaviors disproportionately, then that is a fact that should be acknowledged as fact, and individuals in such demographic groups should be encouraged to step up and straighten out as a matter of responsible behavior.
Virginia Citizens Defense League, Inc. (VCDL). VCDL is an all-volunteer, non-partisan grassroots organization dedicated to defending the human rights of all Virginians. The Right to Keep and Bear Arms is a fundamental human right. Visit: www.vcdl.org