When a loved one is struggling with a mental health condition that is negatively impacting their lives, the initial action loved ones may take is to get them into treatment or hold an intervention of sorts. In many cases, these actions are effective and help countless individuals get the mental health care that they need to live happy, fulfilled lives. However, not everyone is willing to admit the status of their mental health or accept the help they are offered. But when an individual is spiraling out of control as a result of their untreated mental illness and is refusing help, loved ones may be able to utilize a nuclear option in the state of Florida — the Baker Act.
What is the Baker Act?
Under Florida law, the Baker Act is a court order that is initiated when loved ones of an individual with a mental illness requests involuntary commitment of that individual. Previously known as the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, the Baker Act is a statute that was sponsored by former State Representative of Florida Maxine Baker, hence its name.
Who is the Baker Act Used For?
The Baker Act is only used in situations where an individual is experiencing severe complications as a result of an untreated mental illness. An individual must be exhibiting the following in order for someone to initiate the Baker Act on them:
- The individual is mentally and emotionally impaired to the extent that they are unable to control their behaviors and actions and are experiencing a disconnect from reality
- Has refused voluntary mental health services or are unable to realize that they need treatment because of the severity of their mental illness
- Poses a threat to themselves or those around them as a result of not receiving treatment for their mental illness
This specific criteria for the Baker Act is just that — specific. An individual cannot initiate the Baker Act on another person simply because they have a mental illness and are refusing treatment. Countless individuals carry on with their lives with an untreated mental illness, but those who are in extreme danger to themselves and others can be Baker Acted.
Who Can Initiate the Baker Act?
The Baker Act cannot be initiated by friends, family members, or loved ones of an individual experiencing a severe mental illness. Instead, the only individuals with the authority to Baker Act a person are judges, law enforcement officials, doctors, or mental health professionals. Therefore, in order to begin the process of the Baker Act, a person must call the police in the event of a mental health crisis, petition the court, or have their loved one examined by a medical or mental health professional. At that time, one of these professionals can involuntarily admit them into a hospital that takes Baker Act patients if they meet the criteria.
What is the Process of the Baker Act?
The Baker Act is not something that happens overnight. Friends and family members of an individual experiencing a mental health crisis likely want to see immediate action and resolution, but unfortunately that does not always happen. However, when there is an individual who is unable to care for themselves or keep themselves or others safe due to their mental illness, things move along as quickly as possible.
There are four steps to the Baker Act that take place in a relatively short period of time:
- Step 1 – The individual in question is committed by a means of a law enforcement officer, doctor, mental health professional, or a judge
- Step 2 – Regardless of who initiates the Baker Act, a law enforcement officer will take the individual into custody to transport them to a receiving mental health facility
- Step 3 – The individual is examined and placed on a psychiatric hold for no more than 72 hours
- Step 4 – The individual is given a mental health evaluation and further treatment is recommended based on the results of that evaluation
Through the implementation of this process, the Baker Act provides an option for friends and family who recognize that action must be taken before their loved one hurts themselves or others. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for individuals in the midst of a mental health crisis to take matters into their own hands and turn to suicide or other forms of self-harm. The Baker Act serves as a legal way to avoid tragic endings like this while giving assistance to individuals when they cannot or will not make the decision themselves. While this may seem extreme, involuntary commitment to psychiatric care has saved the lives of many.