Mental Health Commitments

What is a mental health commitment?

A mental health commitment involves a procedure whereby an individual who falls into certain categories as defined by the Texas Mental Health Code is placed in a mental health facility for treatment. The criteria to be considered in determining whether a person may be involuntarily committed are outlined below.

For whom may a person seek a mental health warrant for involuntary commitment?

A person may seek a warrant for commitment for:

  • someone who shows signs of mental illness or is a chemically dependent person; and
  • someone who shows a great risk of serious harm either to himself or herself or to others; or who without treatment, will continue to deteriorate to the degree that he or she will pose a danger to himself or herself; and
  • someone for whom the risk of harm is imminent unless immediately restrained; and
  • someone for whom these beliefs are based on recent behavior, acts, attempts, or threats.

What is considered mental illness?

The Texas Mental Health Code defines mental illness as an illness, disease, or condition that either: (1) substantially impairs the person’s thought process, perception of reality, or emotional process, or judgment; or (2) grossly impairs behavior as manifested by recent disturbed behavior.

How do you seek a mental health commitment?

The application for a mental health commitment must be accompanied by an affidavit that indicates the person for whom the commitment is sought shows signs of recent disturbed behavior.

Who may seek a mental health commitment?

Anyone 18 years of age or older with personal knowledge of the person’s recent disturbed behavior can sign the affidavit necessary for commitment.

Where should the affidavit be filed?

The affidavit should be completed and filed at the County Mental Illness Court.

What happens after the affidavit is completed?

A judge reviews the affidavit. If it appears to indicate mental illness, the judge signs an order for commitment, which is delivered to the constable’s office. This order gives the constable the authority to pick up the person.

What happens when a person is picked up by the constable?

The constable will take the person to the mental health hospital where treatment has been arranged. A doctor must examine the person and complete a Certificate of Medical Examination within 24 hours, or if the 24 hour period ends on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, by 4 p.m. of the following business day.

Does a person who has been picked up on a mental health warrant have a right to an attorney?

Yes. That person is automatically appointed an attorney to represent him or her, although he or she still has the right to hire his or her own attorney.

What happens after the doctor’s examination?

Based on the doctor’s recommendation in the certificate, either the person is released or an Order for Protective Custody (OPC) is entered by the court. An OPC gives the hospital authority to hold the person until the court hearing.

Is a person entitled to any hearings while under an order for protective custody?

Yes. The first hearing is a probable cause hearing, which must be held within 72 hours of the date the OPC is signed. The second hearing is a final hearing, which is usually held within 7 – 10 days of the date the OPC was entered.

What is a probable cause hearing?

The probable cause hearing is held in the mental health hospital before the Master of the County Mental Illness Court. The purpose is to find out whether or not the person should be held at the facility until the final hearing. The evidence presented generally consists of the Certificate of Medical Examination and the affidavit of disturbed behavior. The person being held may waive the probable cause hearing if desired.

What is a final hearing?

The final hearing is held before a Probate Judge to determine if the person should be committed to a mental health facility. A second doctor must have seen the patient to complete a second Certificate of Medical Examination prior to the hearing. Both a doctor and either the person who filled out the affidavit or someone else who has knowledge of recent disturbed behavior must be present and testify at the hearing.

What happens after the final hearing?

If the court determines inpatient treatment is not necessary, the person is released from the mental health facility for recommended outpatient treatment or no treatment. If the court finds inpatient treatment is necessary, the person is committed to a hospital for treatment. The Order of Commitment will be for a period of either 90 days or one year.
Most mental health commitments are for 90 days. Most persons do not require the full 90 days of treatment, and may be discharged by the treating doctor at any time prior to that date, often in two to three weeks. If the person has been under a commitment for a minimum of 60 consecutive days during the preceding 12 months, the commitment may be for a period of 12 months. Once again, however, the patient may be discharged by his treating doctor at any time prior to the expiration of the 12-month period if the doctor believes further inpatient treatment is not necessary.