If serious mental illness becomes a danger, when is involuntary commitment OK?

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Wednesday, September 13, 2023 - 12:03pm
Updated: Wednesday, September 13, 2023 - 2:07pm

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This conversation may not be appropriate for all listeners.

entrance of the Arizona State Hospital
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
The entrance of the Arizona State Hospital in Phoenix.

Serious mental illness is one of the toughest issues facing society, but no one seems to want to talk about it — let alone do anything to address it.

Yet at the same time, it affects us all: from individuals and families to our healthcare system, public safety and the growing challenge of homelessness we see on our streets everyday. 

What should we do with the slim portion of our population experiencing serious mental illness? The ones who cycle in and out of the SMI system, often coming into contact with police and emergency rooms along the way. 

The answer used to be simple: Lock them up in asylums. But then — decades ago, along with scores of institutions across the country — the Arizona State Hospital opened its doors and patients walked out onto Van Buren Street, free.

But with no plan after that, it turned out that wasn't a good answer either. And, in 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case dubbed Olmstead that people with serious mental illness have a right to live in the community — not in institutions.

Now, the line between civil rights and involuntarily locking someone up if they’re a danger to themselves or others remains blurry. Josh Mozell and Meaghan Kramer joined The Show to shed a little light on what that means.

Mozell is an attorney with Mozell Law Group who specializes in mental health law. He often represents the families of people with serious mental illness. Kramer is the managing attorney for the healthcare group at the Arizona Center for Disability Law, representing patients.

Josh Mozell and Meaghan Kramer
Lauren Gilger/KJZZ
Josh Mozell and Meaghan Kramer

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