Education Lessons Medicine Policy

Involuntary Commitment (II).

His sister helped him move into the apartment about three months ago. She told you that he has a long history with the mental health system: His first hospitalization, which was over six months long, occurred when he was 19 years old. Since then, he’s been hospitalized close to a dozen times—often against his will—and each hospitalization has lasted weeks to months. Sighing, she said that because of his symptoms, he’s been evicted from nearly every apartment he’s ever lived in, fired from the few jobs he’s been able to get, and unable to complete his schooling to earn his college degree, something he’s wanted to do for many years now.

“When he starts to get better, he stops taking his medicines… then we start all over again.”

He had left the psychiatric hospital the day before you met him. His eyes looked flat and dull; he hardly blinked. Saliva was oozing from the right corner of his mouth. His head was tilted to the right. Though his arms trembled when he shook your hand, he spoke with a steady voice: “Nice to meet you.”

He understandably did not like the side effects from the medications he took.

“I feel so tired. I can’t think,” he said. “I can’t play my guitar.”

Because of his listlessness, you gradually reduced the doses of several of his medications. The drooling stopped. He showed more facial expressions. The tremor nearly resolved. He started playing his guitar regularly.

“I don’t think I need the medicine anymore,” he declared about four days ago. “They don’t help me. I’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

With the knowledge of his past history, you try to negotiate with him: How about taking this medication, but not that one? What about taking this medication right before bed to ensure sleep? Let’s try—

“No, I’m fine. You worry too much, doc! This time will be different. I can feel it. Everything is clear now. I won’t end up in the hospital.”

He begins to deliver monologues about his masturbation habits. He has taken an interest in a woman who lives down the hall… and the woman who lives upstairs and the visiting nurse for the man who lives in the corner unit. He spends his nights writing 1000-word poems of love and lust to each of these women. He plays his guitar for hours. The neighbors become annoyed, especially when he starts bawling and laughing at 3am.

It’s only been four days! He’s now dragging all of his furniture out of his apartment.


He’s thrown some of his belongings out of the window, as it is apparently easier and more efficient to clear out his apartment that way. His iron, toaster, and most of his silverware are scattered on the sidewalk below.

His brows are furrowed, his teeth are bared, and his hands are clenched into fists.

“SOMEONE is taking over MY room THEY plan to take over my body THIS is all MINE YOU can’t make it stop so I have to make THEM stop—”

He’s struggling to push a chest of drawers towards the door. Yelling, he yanks the top drawer completely out and throws it across the room.

“Please stop for moment—” you begin.

“YOU can’t make me stop no one can me stop YOU don’t understand THIS is an EMERGENCY SOMEONE is trying to make ME go away and NONE of THIS is MINE the furniture MUST be KILLED it tells to me to DIE—”

You see him reach for his guitar and you thank your instincts a few seconds later when you hear the guitar crash into the wall behind you.

Does this man have a mental illness? Does he need to be sent to the hospital for psychiatric evaluation? If he doesn’t want to go to the hospital, should he be forced to go to the hospital against his will?