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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is led by reporter Syeda Hasan and is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

Outdated, Vague Laws Block Better Psychiatric Treatment in Texas

Man sitting in hospital corridor worried
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A new report says Texas has "laws that favor police interaction and make it difficult to get loved ones help during severe mental health crises."

A nonprofit has evaluated the state's psychiatric treatment laws and gave Texas a grade of C+. The Treatment Advocacy Center's Lisa Dailey explains why.

KERA's On Our Minds series looks at how mental health shapes the lives of North Texans.

In a new report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, Texas earned a grade of C+ based on an analysis of the state's psychiatric treatment laws. The research showed that outdated laws for mental health treatment increase the likelihood of a run-in with police.

Justin Martin spoke with the non-profit's director of advocacy Lisa Dailey, who co-authored the report.

Interview Highlights:

This has been lightly edited for clarity.

On Involuntary Treatment:

Well, basically, the vast majority of people receive any of their psychiatric care on a voluntary basis. You know, they experienced symptoms. They go to make an appointment with a psychologist, a psychiatrist or a counselor.

There's a small percentage of people in any population that either don't have insight into their illness or are in denial about their illness or for some other reason are unwilling to accept treatment. And generally speaking, it is a person's right to decide not to receive medical care.

But at some point, if that person reaches particularly spelled-out criteria, there is a right and a duty on the part of the government to intervene in order to protect that person or to protect other people.

On Why Involuntary Treatment Without Police Intervention Is Important:

Partly, it's just philosophically because these are health conditions. You don't treat any other kind of health condition by calling the police. We have sort of fallen into that as a pattern, but it isn't something that we need to do, and it's not something that all states do.

So a lot of it is just a recognition that medical settings are appropriate to treat medical illnesses, but it's also just that people who are in law enforcement don't receive specialized training. I mean, they might receive crisis intervention training that allows them to de-escalate a situation, but they're not psychiatrists.

On Texas Receiving a C+:

Texas actually has very good outpatient treatment laws. But there are some issues with the inpatient standard and some issues with the emergency evaluation standard. They're both kind of vague is the main issue.

There are some states where what is there is bad or there's like a real problem that we need to kind of go back to the drawing board and rewrite everything.

Texas' statutes are really more a case where there's some things in it that are either confusing to apply, which make it difficult, or there's some inconsistencies or some ambiguities that make it kind of hard to know how it should apply and to make sure that it applies the same way. So I would say that's the main thing.

On Minnesota's A+:

Minnesota actually just passed kind of a big overhaul of their state statutes. They actually previously had been kind of around the same grade as Texas. So it actually doesn't take a lot of changes to bring up to a really good grade.

What they did when they made their revision is actually kind of similar to what we would recommend for Texas. They had an inconsistency between their emergency evaluation statute and their inpatient statute, and that can be a problem if there's a difference between what can get you picked up and brought to the hospital and what can get you admitted.

That obviously poses a real possibility that you could have confusion about whether or not somebody should be subject to treatment.

They fixed that in their last statute, and then they kind of ironed out a bit about what kind of evidence should be considered in deciding whether someone is a danger to themselves or to someone else, and made it very clear how that should work.

Recommendation For Texas:

There's a couple of different reasons that a person might be considered dangerous to themselves and they sort of ironed out their definition and that's something that we would also recommend that Texas do.

We recommend that what states do is they look at what some other states have done, what language have they used and kind of make a determination about, you know, can we borrow some language or can we, make a couple of easy changes that just makes us easier to apply.

Got a tip? Email Justin Martin at Jmartin@kera.org. You can follow Justin on Twitter @MisterJMart.

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