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Politics & Government

More People Could Be Involuntarily Committed To Mental Health Facilities Under Proposal From State Lawmaker

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“If we have a little greater opportunity to help some of the most severely ill in our state ... these individuals don't have to be institutionalized in a jail and can step back into our communities with proper treatment,” said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said he plans to introduce a bill to make it easier for mentally ill people to be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility and to codify rights for those people.

Right now, people who are determined to be a danger to themselves or others can be put into a mental health facility — against their will — for an initial period of 24 hours.

Under Eliason’s bill, people who can’t provide for their basic needs because of a mental health issue could also be committed. The legislation would allow them to be committed for up to 72 hours, instead of the current 24 hour maximum.

Eliason said this is meant to help people whose mental disorder keeps them from understanding that they are sick. This is most commonly associated with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“So they have an opportunity to gain insight into their illness and realize, ‘Hey, this is manageable and treatable if I continue on my treatment plan,’” he said. “If we have a little greater opportunity to help some of the most severely ill in our state ... these individuals don't have to be institutionalized in a jail and can step back into our communities with proper treatment.”

He said he also wants to make sure people who have been committed have rights like using a phone or talking to an attorney. However, he does not want to include the right to refuse medication or treatment, like some other states have.

“If you don't know you're sick, then of course you're going to refuse treatment,” Eliason said.

Jen Maffessanti, a spokesperson for the libertarian think tank Libertas Institute, said including those rights in legislation is critical.

“We are talking about revoking people's freedom, even if it's just for 24 to 72 hours,” she said. “That is a big deal and it needs to be treated as a big deal.”

She said there need to be guardrails to ensure that people can access those rights quickly.

“If it can't get done within the time frame of the hold, then that's too long,” Maffessanti said. “It doesn't actually matter that those rights exist on paper if they can't actually access them in a timely manner.”

Maffessanti said Libertas hasn’t taken a formal position on the legislation yet, and is working with Eliason on it.

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