If a loved one has a mental illness or any mental health issues, it is best to seek the advice and help of health care professionals who know how to deal with these very complicated problems. The resources on this page may be able to offer you some help or, at least, point you in the right direction.
I learned firsthand that the cumbersome bureaucracy of the health care system can make it very difficult to address mental health issues or diseases affecting the mind. When my brother was first admitted to the hospital, he was given the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, manic with psychotic features and alcohol dependence. However, my brother was quickly released from the hospital because, by law, he could only be held for observation or treatment under certain very specific conditions.
If my brother had a heart attack, there would be no problem, everyone would know what to do, but because something was attacking his mind, his condition was a mystery that was hard to recognize and even harder to treat.
Under our laws, as my brother’s doctors pointed out, there are only two specific reasons why a person can be hospitalized against their will. Overt signs of suicide or physical violence toward others. There are no provisions in the law to address people who are irrational, financially self-destructive, or outright insane. As my brother’s family, there was nothing legally that we could do to stop him from acting out his fantasies, from ignoring his health or from destroying his business and only source of income.
I looked into pursuing a court action to have myself appointed my brother’s guardian under Article 81 of the New York State Mental Hygiene Law in the context of a Conservatorship. I took a course through the New York State Bar Association in order to be certified as a court appointed guardian which is a necessary step before you can make this application. This is a very difficult process and requires not only a high level of incompetence on the part of the patient, but, also, the right kind of incompetence. Guardian appointments are usually reserved for people whose mental capacity has become so impaired that they are incapable of taking care of themselves or making any decisions about their care, their personal welfare or their financial affairs. There is a distinction, for example, between someone who can’t take care of their personal hygiene and a person who chooses not to take care of their personal hygiene. The first person might be in need of a guardian, but the other is not.
When I made this analysis with my brother’s situation, in almost all cases it came down to the fact that he was still capable of making decisions even if I thought they were the wrong decisions. He was also physically able to take care of his personal well-being even though he was choosing not to bath, groom or change his clothes. It was frustrating to find that the law simply does not allow you to help someone who does not want to be helped.