Florida Mental Health Act

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The Florida Mental Health Act of 1971 (Florida Statute 394.451-394.47891[1] (2009 rev.)), commonly known as the "Baker Act," allows the involuntary institutionalization and examination of an individual.

The Baker Act allows for involuntary examination (what some call emergency or involuntary commitment). It can be initiated by judges, law enforcement officials, physicians, or mental health professionals. There must be evidence that the person:

  • possibly has a mental illness (as defined in the Baker Act).
  • is a harm to self, harm to others, or self neglectful (as defined in the Baker Act).

Examinations may last up to 72 hours after a person is deemed medically stable and occur in over 100 Florida Department of Children and Families-designated receiving facilities statewide.

There are many possible outcomes following examination of the patient. This includes the release of the individual to the community (or other community placement), a petition for involuntary inpatient placement (what some call civil commitment), involuntary outpatient placement (what some call outpatient commitment or assisted treatment orders), or voluntary treatment (if the person is competent to consent to voluntary treatment and consents to voluntary treatment). The involuntary outpatient placement language in the Baker Act took effect as part of the Baker Act reform in 2005.

The act was named for a Florida state representative from Miami, Maxine Baker,[2] who had a strong interest in mental health issues, served as chair of a House Committee on Mental Health, and was the sponsor of the bill.

The nickname of the legislation has led to the term "Baker Act" as a transitive verb, and "Baker Acted" as a passive-voice verb, for invoking the Act to force an individual's commitment. Although the Baker Act is a statute only for the state of Florida, use of "Baker Acting" as a verb has become prevalent as a slang term for involuntary commitment in other regions of the United States.[3][not in citation given]

Clarification of Baker Act criteria[edit]

Specific criteria must be met in order to initiate involuntary examination. Among those criteria are the following elements, that by themselves, do not qualify an individual as having met or meeting the criteria:

Reason to believe that the person has a mental illness; refusal of voluntary examination; the person is unable to determine whether examination is necessary. Criteria are not met simply because a person has mental illness, appears to have mental problems, takes psychiatric medication, or has an emotional outburst. Criteria are not met simply because a person refuses voluntary examination. Criteria are not met if there are family members or friends that will help prevent any potential and present threat of substantial harm.

The criteria, as stated in the statute, mentions a substantial likelihood that without care or treatment the person will cause serious bodily harm in the near future. ("Substantial" means ample, considerable, firm or strong.)

To further clarify this point of substantial likelihood, there must be evidence of recent behavior to justify the substantial likelihood of serious bodily harm in the near future. Moments in the past, when an individual may have considered harming themselves or another, do not qualify the individual as meeting the criteria. ("Near" means close, short, or draws near.)[4]

Reception[edit]

An editorial in the Tampa Bay Times wrote that the Act is currently only a bandaid solution and should be reformed to allow public defenders to have access to the patient's medical records and ongoing counseling and outpatient mental health treatment should be provided to the patient.[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
Additional references