Committing Mentally Ill Residents Against Their Will

The mayor of New York City announced a new proposal for the city to address mentally ill residents by hospitalizing them, involuntarily, even when they do not pose an immediate safety risk to others. Under this directive, New York City police officers, firefighters, and health department officials can commit mentally ill individuals against their will, if they “cannot support their basic human needs to an extent that causes them harm.”

Before this, officials could only hospitalize mentally ill individuals who exhibited violence or posed an immediate threat. After a day or two, when their condition improved, the hospital generally discharged the offenders. Although the proposed legislation does not define “basic needs” or specify the criteria for determining whether those needs are being met, Mayor Eric Adams announced that the governor would provide an additional 50 psychiatric beds to support the plan.

Adams also announced a new telephone hotline connecting police officers with health department and hospital workers to consider “potential responses to individuals with mental health needs,” effective next year. The Bowery Mission (New York, New York) president and CEO James Winans agrees that sometimes intervention shows compassion and supports the mayor’s approach, but also understands those who oppose the measure.