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.
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