Involuntary Hospitalization: An Overlooked Area of Law

Involuntary Hospitalization: An Overlooked Area of Law

Under North Carolina law, someone can be involuntarily hospitalized if there is “clear, cogent, and convincing evidence” they are mentally ill and dangerous to themselves or others. But how often do you hear about involuntary hospitalization for mental illnesses? Probably not much.

Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness. That’s almost 47 million people. This chunk of our population makes involuntary hospitalizations a significant area of law that impacts many people nationally. Last week, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued an opinion on the subject.

R.H. suffers from schizophrenia. He was involuntarily hospitalized after planning to walk 300 miles to Myrtle Beach.

An individual whom the North Carolina Court of Appeals calls “R.H.,” suffers from schizophrenia. In addition, he had a history of refusing to comply with prescribed treatment. In July 2019, he voluntarily went to an emergency room after experiencing auditory hallucinations. At the time of his voluntary admission, he was homeless.

Involuntary hospitalizations are an issue in North Carolina.
Photo courtesy of Daan Stevens on Unsplash

After multiple days of treatment, R.H. asked for a discharge. During his request, he indicated that would, “walk approximately 300 miles to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina after release.” Subsequently, hospital staff began involuntary commitment proceedings.

Afterward, R.H. became agitated, punched a wall, and called 911 to claim that a nurse molested him. One physician noted that R.H. claimed people were trying to poison his food and were “out to get him.”

Later, that same physician also noted that voices told R.H. “mean things.” Ultimately, multiple physicians evaluated R.H. and commented on his mental illness. In addition, they said that he presented a danger to himself and others.

A Buncombe County judge ruled (and the Court of Appeals affirmed) involuntary hospitalization a necessary step.

Buncombe County District Court Judge Ward D. Scott found the evidence sufficient to warrant involuntary hospitalization. In addition, the NC Court of Appeals affirmed his decision. In a straightforward analysis, the Court held that there was sufficient evidence that R.H. had a mental illness and posed a danger to, at a minimum, himself.

Involuntary hospitalizations affect many in North Carolina, where one in five adults suffers from mental illness.
Photo courtesy of Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

“Without involuntary commitment and administration and post-monitoring of [medication],” the Court wrote, “[r]espondent was likely to suffer physical debilitation s a result of the inability to monitor his side-effects, and ‘get into trouble’ as a consequence of his irrational behaviors and impaired judgment.”

R.H.’s case presents just one of many examples of involuntary hospitalization in North Carolina. Nevertheless, the case can help North Carolinians understand the legal resources available for those whose loved ones suffer from mental illness. In light of the fact that one in five adults in the United States is, that group could be everyone.

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