Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mental Health Commitment Standards

The General Assembly has sent to the Governor's desk bills to restructure Virginia's mental health system in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy.

On the one hand, I've known of people in the past that could have been helped under the new "substantial deterioration" standard. As is, in Virginia someone has to hit rock bottom before you can require them to get treatment. If this becomes law, all you'll have to do is demonstrate that they're sliding that way.

On the other hand, it's going to make for a huge mandate to fund. When Virginia began shutting down the state hospital system, the money saved was supposed to be sent to the localities to cover private hospitalization for those who previously would have been sent to a state facility. Given state financial difficulties, there's never been enough to cover entirely. As such a change would mean more commitments, the financial challenge would be that much larger.

My optimistic side hopes people can receive the help they need earlier, before a full-blown meltdown. My pessimistic side fears making it easier to commit people, as such powers will almost certainly be abused by some.

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