I recently finished reading the book “Committed: The Battle Over Involuntary Psychiatric Care” by Dinah Miller, MD and Annette Hanson, MD. This book was extremely detailed and unbiased. While the target audience was likely psychiatrists and other mental health care professionals, the writing was accessible to the general public as well.
In Committed Drs. Miller and Hanson start a discussion about the pros and cons of involuntary civil commitment. The authors interview proponents of both sides of the issue, as well as review the history of civil commitment. Throughout the book, the authors tell the story of two patients, one who had a positive experience and feels she benefited from her civil commitment, and one who had a bad experience and feels she experienced more trauma than benefit from her civil commitment.
The focus of Committed is civil commitment, however, the criminal justice system is also discussed. The authors talk about a Mental Health Court in Baltimore, MD and had an interview with the judge. The book quotes the judge as saying, “Sitting in mental health court has given me a better understanding of mental illness. It’s made it easier for me to spot a potential issue in court if someone’s acting not quite right, whereas before I might wonder: why are they being so rude or using profane language in the courtroom? I guess because of my brother, it’s been a good learning experience for me. Do people with mental illness get a little more sympathy from me? Absolutely.” This demonstrates the importance of a court which is knowledgeable about mental illness.
There were many interviews throughout the book with great quotes, such as the one above. Reading this book showed what a truly difficult decision committing a patient can be for the treating psychiatrist. While it may save the patient’s life, the process can also potentially traumatize the patient and make them less likely to seek treatment in the future.
Before starting this book, I asked myself what I thought of civil commitment, is it good or is it bad? I entered this book with the opinion that if used carefully, civil commitment can save lives and is therefore a valuable tool. After reading the book, my opinion has not really changed, however, I feel that I have a much better grasp over what the potential benefits and harms are.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to better understand the complexity of the issue of civil commitment. This book is a valuable resource for doctors and lawyers, but is also a valuable read for patients and their family.
After finishing this book, I went to a Writers Live event in which the authors spoke about their book and started a discussion on the issue as a whole. I will be writing about that event and discussing more about civil commitment, and what the authors refer to as “the battleground” in a follow up entry to be released next Sunday, May 28, 2017. The event was recorded by the Enoch Pratt Library, and you can listen to it here.
This book can be purchased from Amazon.