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People often ask the Treatment Advocacy Center how to change their state's mental illness treatment laws or civil commitment standards. Every state is different but many quick and easy-to-use tools and strategies cut across state lines.

You can make a difference. Click on any title in the list below for suggestions on advocating effectively for the elimination of barriers to treatment of severe mental illness in your state.

To receive important news updates and calls to action, Sign Up now. For the profile of one advocate who made a difference, read "Randall Hagar - A profile in treatment advocacy."

Know the laws in your state
Identify the deficiencies that need addressing in your state
Understand the facts
Write a letter to the editor
Write your lawmaker
Visit your lawmaker
Advocate for better use of the law
Be in the loop
Donate to the Treatment Advocacy Center

Know the laws in your state
To effectively advocate for intervention, it is essential to know what the standards for intervention in your state or the state where the family member lives currently are. Use the US map in the upper left of this page to navigate to your state’s page. Click here for a guide to state laws and standards.

Identify the deficiencies that need addressing in your state

  • 45 states have assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) laws authorizing courts to order treatment for people with severe mental illness who are too sick to get treatment for themselves. To advocate effectively, determine whether your state has such a law and, if so, whether it is being used. The local department of mental health, your state department of health and welfare, or your local NAMI affiliate will know.
  • 42 states are estimated to have fewer than the estimated bare minimum number of psychiatric hospital beds necessary to meet acute mental health needs. Click here to find out where your state ranks.
  • 9 states allow civil commitment (inpatient and/or outpatient) ONLY when someone becomes dangerous. Sadly, meeting this standard may not occur until after an individual has actually hurt somebody. Use the state map at upper right to learn where your state stands on the dangerousness standard. Advocating for more progressive commitment standards is a good target of your efforts.
  • 5 states do not have AOT laws authorizing court-ordered treatment for people too symptomatic to get treatment for themselves. These states are Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, and Tennessee. If you live in one of these states, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it about how you can get involved advocating for change where you live.
  • 3 times more people with severe mental illness are in jails and prisons than in hospitals. In some states, the ratio is close to 10:1. Click here find out where your state ranks.

Understand the facts

Assisted outpatient treatment works.
Knowing the facts about AOT’s effectiveness makes advocacy easier. Among the facts independent studies have documented for patients in AOT for six months or more:

  • 77 percent fewer were hospitalized.
  • 85 percent fewer experienced homelessness.
  • 83 percent fewer were arrested.
  • 85 percent fewer were incarcerated.
  • 55 percent fewer experienced suicide attempts.
  • 48 percent fewer experienced drug abuse.
The consequences of non-treatment include homelessness, victimization, suicide, violence, arrest and incarceration. Learn more about Consequences of Non-treatment here.
Anosognosia is a medical condition. The majority of people with severe mental illness who are not receiving treatment are not aware they are ill. The medical term for this condition is “anosognosia.” Learn more about anosognosia here.

Severe mental illnesses are real diseases. Multiple studies confirm that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are diseases of the brain in exactly the same sense that Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis are. Write a letter to the editor
Letters to the editors of traditional and online media are a powerful way to draw attention to under-reported issues and to correct media errors . For tips on writing effective letters to the editor that will get printed, click here. Consider writing a letter when any of the following are reported in your local media:
  • A preventable tragedy in which the perpetrator or victim is publicly identified as suffering from an untreated severe mental illness (sample letter theme: “This tragedy could have been prevented if this state were using its assisted outpatient treatment law.”)
  • Governmental action with regard to the laws and commitment standards in your state (sample letter theme: “The Legislature should be faulted/praised for changing the state’s standard of what conditions warrant court intervention to get treatment for the severely mentally ill.”)
  • Any public issue related to severe mental illness (sample letter theme: “This state is jailing far more people with mental illness than it hospitalizes and turning a medical condition into a crime.”)

Write your lawmaker (state legislator or, in California, county supervisor)
Even a handful of letters can have a tremendous impact on your state legislators and their decisions on whether to support treatment law reform. Click here for tips on writing effective letters to legislators.  Don't know who your legislators are? Click here to find out.

Visit your lawmaker
If you live in or near your state capital, meeting with your legislator is the most effective way to explain the importance of treatment law reform. They personalize the issue and allow you to assess your legislator's position. Click here for tips on meeting with legislators. 

Advocate for better use of the law

If your state already has progressive commitment standards and assisted outpatient treatment provisions, advocate for consistent, effective implementation of them. To advocate:

  • Seek opportunities to speak to officials or organizations in a position to influence treatment for mental illness in your community, e.g., law enforcement agencies, district attorneys, judges and/or mental health providers or their professional groups.
  • Alert local media to misstatements about treatment laws and standards, families in crisis (providing they want to cooperate), how a better state law might have been used to avert a preventable tragedy and other issues of public interest. Most news organizations have a “submit a tip” function on their websites as well as functions for submitting letters to the editor, corrections, guest columns and other materials.
Be in the loop
  • Share relevant local news stories in your community by emailing a link to the story at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
  • Sign up for broadcast emails from the Treatment Advocacy Center about developments in mental health and its treatment.
  • Subscribe to our blog.
Donate to the Treatment Advocacy Center
The Treatment Advocacy Center does not accept funding from pharmaceutical companies or entities involved in the sale, marketing or distribution of such products. This makes private donations critical to fulfilling our mission of eliminating the barriers to the treatment of severe mental illness. To donate today, click here.

The Treatment Advocacy Center is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Gifts are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
 
 
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