Decisions to Initiate Involuntary Commitment: The Role of Intensive Community Services and Other Factors

Elizabeth Lloyd McGarvey, Ed.D., MaGuadalupe Leon-Verdin, M.S., Tanya Nicole Wanchek, Ph.D., J.D., and  Richard J. Bonnie, LL.B.

Objective: This study examined the predictors of actions to initiate involuntary commitment of individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. Methods: Emergency services clinicians throughout Virginia completed a questionnaire following each face-to-face evaluation of individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. Over a one-month period in 2007, a total of 2,624 adults were evaluated. Logistic hierarchical multiple regression was used to analyze the relationship between demographic, clinical, and service-related variables and outcomes of the emergency evaluations. Results: Several factors predicted 84% of the actions taken to initiate involuntary commitment. These included unavailability of alternatives to hospitalization, such as temporary housing or residential crisis stabilization; evaluation of the client in a hospital emergency room or police station or while in police custody; current enrollment in treatment; and clinical factors related to the commitment criteria, including risk of self-harm or harm to others, acuity and severity of the crisis, and current drug abuse or dependence. Conclusions: A lack of intensive communitybased treatment and support in lieu of hospitalization accounted for a significant portion of variance in actions to initiate involuntary commitment. Comprehensive community services and supports for individuals experiencing mental health crises may reduce the rate of involuntary hospitalization. There is a need to enrich intensive community mental health services and supports and to evaluate the impact of these enhancements on the frequency of involuntary mental health interventions. (Psychiatric Services 64:120–126, 2013; doi: 10.1176/