Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania as "involuntary outpatient treatment." Pennsylvania still uses an involuntary treatment standard based primarily on a person’s likelihood of being dangerous instead of using a more progressive “need for treatment” standard as in many states.



For both inpatient or outpatient treatment, a person must meet the following criteria:

  • be a “clear and present danger” to him/herself or others. "Danger" specifically includes the inability, without assistance, to satisfy need for nourishment, personal or medical care, shelter, or self-protection and safety.
    • Exhibit a reasonable probability that death, serious bodily injury or serious physical debilitation will ensue within 30 days without treatment. 

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. 


The Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services  (OMHSAS) on Feb. 7 released a bulletin acknowledging that "involuntary outpatient commitments should be encouraged for persons who can be maintained safely in the community."

  • The criteria above are set forth in the Mental Health Procedures Act of 1976 (MHPA).
  • The MHPA establishes rights and procedures for voluntary and involuntary treatment of mentally ill persons on either an inpatient (hospital) or outpatient (community) basis.

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.


Pennsylvania News

  • A Preventable Tragedy Near Pittsburgh
    on 02/28/13 ( Blog / PA )

    (Feb. 28, 2013) On the morning of Feb. 19 in the Pittsburgh suburb of Richland Township, 26-year-old Levi Staver fatally stabbed his grandmother, Connie Johnston, while she ate breakfast in her home. When police arrived at the scene, Levi reportedly told them that his grandmother was a witch and that he was commanded to kill her by an Arch Angel.

    Last fall, Levi was diagnosed with schizophrenia after being hospitalized for injuries suffered in an accident. For years before that up until last week’s tragedy, Levi’s mother and grandparents waged a losing battle to secure for him the mental illness treatment he so desperately needed. Like so many other families, their struggle was compounded – first, by Levi’s inability to recognize his own illness and refusal to submit himself to voluntary care, and second, by a misguided civil commitment law that withholds the lifeline of involuntary treatment until death or severe injury appears imminent.  In Pennsylvania, the law requires proof of “a reasonable probability that death, serious bodily injury or serious physical debilitation would ensue within 30 days unless adequate treatment were afforded.”

    On Monday, Levi’s heartbroken mother and grandfather spoke to Pittsburgh’s KDKA-TV, and the report is available online. The Johnstons explain how the public mental health system failed Levi, and announce their intent to work for reform of the Pennsylvania commitment law. Will Pennsylvania lawmakers take heed before another senseless preventable tragedy occurs? Let’s hope so.

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  • The State of Mental Health Care
    on 02/01/11 ( Blog / PA )

    The case of Jared Loughner and his apparent mental illness has raised questions about mental health care in America.

  • PA: No Treatment + No Home in Winter = Death ... Again
    on 12/09/10 ( Blog / PA )
    Her body was found behind Ben’s Deli on Bridge Street. “I honestly don’t know what could have been done,” the deli’s sympathetic owner told the Bucks County Courier Times.

  • Losing Susan: A Pennsylvania Family Helps to Put a Face on the Need for Reform
    on 06/10/09 ( Blog / PA )

    Susan McDonough was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her late teens. 


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