Treatment Advocacy Center
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The Treatment Advocacy Center is a national U.S. nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating legal and other barriers to the timely and effective treatment of severe mental illness. The organization promotes laws, policies and practices for the delivery of psychiatric care and supports the development of innovative treatments for and research into the causes of severe and persistent psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Among the organization’s principal activities are promoting the passage and implementation of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) laws and progressive civil commitment laws and standards in individual states.
Research psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., founded the Treatment Advocacy Center in 1998 as a function of the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI). For nearly 10 years in the decade after the widespread elimination of psychiatric hospital beds in the U.S., Dr. Torrey had been a psychiatrist at St. Elizabeths Hospital for the treatment of serious and persistent mental illness in Washington, D.C. There, he frequently treated patients who were unaware they were sick despite their profound and disabling symptoms of mental illness. He also recognized that individuals who would have been hospitalized prior to the closing of state psychiatric hospitals (a trend known as “deinstitutionalization”) were increasingly being migrated into jails and prisons because of behaviors that resulted from their non-treatment. With the generous support of entrepreneur Theodore Stanley and his wife Vada, the Treatment Advocacy Center separated from NAMI shorting after its founding to focus entirely on removing legal barriers to treatment for those with the most severe mental illnesses. Operating entirely without funding from companies or entities involved in the sale, marketing or distribution of pharmaceutical products, the Treatment Advocacy Center has evolved into the nation’s leading proponent for legal reform of civil commitment laws and standards and a source of authoritative research on issues arising from untreated severe mental illness. The organization operates independently with the generous support of the Stanley Medical Research Institute, the largest nongovernment source of funding for research into bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in the United States, and many individual donors and foundations. Dr. Torrey continues to serve as a member of the Treatment Advocacy Center’s board and is executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute.
The Treatment Advocacy Center engages in a wide range of activities and projects aimed at increasing treatment for people with severe mental illness. Areas of focus have or continue to include:
- Development of a Model Law for Assisted Treatment. Released in 2000, the Model Law suggests a legal framework for authorizing court-ordered treatment of individuals with untreated severe mental illness who meet strict legal criteria. Used by lawmakers intent on reforming mental illness treatment laws and standards in their states, the Model Law incorporates multiple overlapping protections to safeguard those under court-ordered treatment and to ensure that only those for whom it is appropriate are placed or remain in assisted treatment.
- Advocacy for civil commitment laws and policies that reduce the consequences of non-treatment for mental illness, which include arrest, incarceration, homelessness, hospitalization violence toward self and others
- Data-based research and study into public policy and other issues related specific to severe mental illness. Typical are “More Mentally Ill Persons Are in Jails and Prisons Than Hospitals: A Survey of the States” (2010), “Problems Associated with Mentally Ill Individuals in Public Libraries” (2009), and “The Shortage of Public Hospital Beds for Mentally Ill Persons” (2008).
- Education of policymakers and judges regarding the nature of severe mental illnesses, advanced treatments available for those illnesses, and the necessity of court-ordered treatment for those who meet strict legal criteria
- Assistance to grassroots advocates working in the states to promote legal reform
- Support for the development of innovative treatments for and research into the causes of severe and persistent psychiatric illnesses
- The Treatment Advocacy Center has been credited with the passage Kendra's Law in New York, Laura's Law in California, and similar assisted outpatient treatment laws in Florida and other states. Since the organization’s foundation, 22 states have reformed their civil commitment laws or standards at least in part as a result of the organization’s advocacy.