Understanding the Journey: Supporting Loved Ones Through Mental Health Crises That Require Involuntary Care

Matt Kuntz

February 16, 2024

Storm Over Prairie Lake
Storm Over Prairie Lake

For Informational purposes only.  Please seek legal advice through your counsel and the County Attorney

As the Executive Director of NAMI Montana, my interactions with families struggling to help their loved ones with severe mental health conditions highlight the profound challenges they face. It's particularly difficult when the person is unable to recognize their need for assistance. This blog aims to guide families through the immediate steps for emergencies and the intricate legal avenues for more sustainable solutions.

Please keep in mind that this is only to be used in the hardest of situations. The process of taking legal action to force your loved one to receive care can permanently damage your relationship with them. Unfortunately, you also may not be happy with the qualify of care that they receive in the commitment. However in some very hard situations, involuntary medical care can save lives.

Immediate Response to Emergencies: The Importance of 988

In critical situations where a mental health crisis poses an immediate threat to someone's life or safety, quick action is essential. Dialing 988 connects people with emergency support services tailored to address urgent mental health issues, providing a crucial lifeline.


The Role of the County Attorney's Office in Montana

For situations that aren't immediate emergencies but still require intervention, the legal process to mandate treatment starts with the county attorney of the jurisdiction where the person is located int. It's crucial for families to engage with their local County Attorney's office, not only to initiate the process but to ensure the County Attorney’s office and law enforcement have a comprehensive understanding of the person’s medical conditions - including relevant health and safety information.

When communicating with the County Attorney, provide them with clear, factual descriptions of your loved one's situation. This allows the County Attorney’s office to make a proper assessment of the level of danger and ensures that any legal action taken is based on a precise understanding of the circumstances.

Do not embellish the story or provide inaccuracies.


Navigating Montana's Legal Landscape

The path to making someone receive mental health treatment in Montana against their will begins with an Emergency Detention, the transitions into a Civil Commitment.

Montana law (MCA 53-21-129) sets specific criteria for emergency detention, focusing on the risk the individual poses to themselves or others and their ability to meet their basic needs. The civil commitment process (MCA 53-21-126) includes those criteria, but further evaluates the individual's self-care capacity and the potential for their condition to worsen without treatment. This underscores the need for clear, factual communication.


The Path to Medical Guardianship and Civil Commitment

Although pursuing medical guardianship (MCA 72-5-306) can be beneficial, it may not be sufficient for ensuring the individual receives necessary care. Civil commitment proceedings might be required to mandate treatment legally. This highlights the importance of understanding and navigating the available legal options with personal legal counsel and the county attorney’s office.


The Long-Term Commitment to Advocacy

It's important to recognize that this process can be lengthy. If families do not achieve the outcome they believe is crucial for their loved one's well-being, it's essential to persist in communication with the County Attorney. Regular updates, provided in writing, should include a clear statement of ongoing concerns and a request for assistance. For some families, this advocacy has spanned years, with consistent written appeals eventually helping their loved one receive the needed care.


Moving Forward with Determination and Support

Supporting a loved one through a severe mental health crisis is a journey marked by emotional and legal complexities. It demands compassion, patience, and a dedication to clear and accurate communication. By addressing emergencies through 988, engaging effectively with the County Attorney's office, and understanding the significance of medical guardianship and civil commitment, families can navigate this challenging path.

 Remember, this process may require sustained effort and advocacy. Regular, factual updates to the County Attorney are crucial in continually advocating for your loved one's care.


At NAMI Montana, we are here to support you through this demanding journey, offering guidance, resources, and a community of support.

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