Illinois, like every state, has its own civil commitment laws that establish criteria for determining when court-ordered treatment is appropriate for individuals with severe mental illness who are too ill to seek care voluntarily. The state authorizes both inpatient (hospital) and outpatient (community) treatment, which is known in Illinois as "involuntary admission on an outpatient basis." It is one of the 27 states whose involuntary treatment standard is based on a person’s “need for treatment” rather than only the person’s likelihood of being dangerous to self or others.
For inpatient treatment, a person must meet the following criteria:
- be a reasonable expectation of danger to self/others
- be unable to provide for basic physical needs so as to guard against serious harm without the assistance of others, or
- refuses or does not adhere to treatment, unable to understand need for treatment, and, if not treated, reasonably expected to suffer mental or emotional deterioration and become dangerous and/or unable to provide for basic physical needs
For outpatient treatment, a person must meet the following criteria:
- in the absence of outpatient treatment, meet criteria for inpatient commitment; and outpatient treatment can only be reasonably ensured through court order; or
- mental illness left untreated reasonably expected to result in qualification for inpatient commitment, and has more than once caused the person to refused needed outpatient care
State standards for emergency hospitalization for evaluation and state-by-state information on initiating emergency hospitalization and assisted inpatient or outpatient treatment can be found from our Civil Commitment Laws and Standards page.
In June 2008, Illinois put in place a new law to loosen what was too strict a standard for care. The new law is a dramatic expansion of the Illinois commitment standard that will allow families, mental health professionals, and law enforcement personnel to secure needed treatment for someone obviously overcome by the symptoms of mental illness without having to wait for an actual and immediate physical danger.
“The law is a monumental victory for the mental health system in the State of Illinois,” said Senator Dale Righter, the bill’s chief sponsor, who along with Representative David Leitch guided the bill through the legislature. “The current criteria make it very difficult and sometimes impossible for individuals suffering from mental illness to get the help they need. In many instances, people stop taking necessary medications, and as a result, fail to realize they need those medications, or even that they suffer from an illness. In these situations, a brief involuntary commitment is the only way to ensure someone with a mental illness returns to their medications and ceases to become a danger to themselves or others.”
“The new law has one goal,” agreed Lora Thomas, the executive director of NAMI Illinois. “It offers the hope of getting a loved one with mental illness into treatment. Illinois can no longer retain the right for people to remain dangerously ill.”
Sen. Righter credited family member Karen Gherardini for first bringing the legislation to his attention. “Karen has struggled for years to help a loved one receive appropriate help and treatment. Karen’s perseverance, persistence and dedication to this issue, in addition to the support of so many other families who have loved ones that suffer from a mental illness, have finally paid off.”
Ms. Gherardini, whose frustrated efforts for treatment for her family member sparked her five-year quest for the reforms embodied in new law, said “I am thankful to the many legislators who stood strong and believed a real change was necessary to save lives. I am elated for the many people that will now be given the opportunity to receive treatment to prevent the progression of a cruel disease. At the same time a part of my heart is very sad…because it comes too late for my family member.”
The Illinois law will allow for the placement in treatment of anyone who, because of the nature of his or her illness, is unable to understand his or her need for treatment and who, if not treated, is at risk of suffering or continuing to suffer mental deterioration or emotional deterioration, or both, to the point that the person is at risk of engaging in dangerous conduct.
The Illinois law also expands the definition of “dangerous conduct” to include threatening behavior or conduct that places another individual in reasonable expectation of being harmed, or a person's inability to provide, without the assistance of family or outside help, for his or her basic physical needs so as to guard himself or herself from serious harm.
Visit Get Help for tools and information about preparing for and handling a psychiatric crisis.
Visit Get Involved for information about how you can help bring down barriers to the timely and effective treatment of severe mental illness.