Mental Health Patients' Families Seek Right To Challenge Forced Commitment

Feb 4, 2014

More than 10,000 mental health patients were involuntarily hospitalized last year in Washington. But not every patient qualifies for forced hospitalization under the law.

Now some families want the right to appeal when a mental health professional says their loved one is not sick enough to be committed. They told their emotional stories to Washington lawmakers Monday.

Worried families packed into a hearing room to tell tearful stories of their loved one’s battles with mental health problems. All of them said it was difficult to get proper treatment; the system failed them.

Karen Shirmer says her brother’s battle with mental illness included hallucinations, paranoia and threatening behavior.

“People who are ill, they don’t know they’re ill. They don’t think they’re ill. And so they spend their time trying to fight you as family members who really love and care about them. But if nobody listens, then they can’t get the help that they need,” Shirmer said.

Shirmer’s brother was fatally shot two years ago during an incident with the local SWAT team.

If the current measure passes, the Superior Court could review a mental health care provider’s decision on involuntary commitment with added input from the patient’s family.

Critics of the measure say mental health providers are better informed to make these decisions, and these additional steps would congest an already overwhelmed system.