Mental health pros weigh in on serving involuntarily commitment papers

DeJuan Hoggard Image
Tuesday, August 2, 2022
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A clinician, as defined by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, can submit a petition for the involuntary commitment process.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Years ago, therapist Ashley Gilmore was in a counseling session when she was attacked by one of her clients.

"They came into the session totally fine," Gilmore said, "And then they got aggravated by some of the questions that were asked during the session and attacked me."

Gilmore's experience is enough of a reason for a clinician, as defined by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, to submit a petition for the involuntary commitment process.

This flow chart explains what steps need to be taken in order for someone to be involuntarily committed.

According to Gilmore, however, being attacked isn't the only way for someone to receive help if they are to be considered a risk or threat to themselves or others.

"I think it depends on their diagnosis," Gilmore added. "For someone who has depression, for instance, you can tell when there's something not right and their demeanor can come off a certain kind of way. For a person who may have narcissistic personality disorder (they may think) it's everyone else and not them. So I'm really thinking it depends on the diagnosis that the person has and to the instinct that they have."

In the most accessible, perhaps, of commitments, a layperson or a clinician can file a petition with the magistrate. From there the magistrate will determine whether enough evidence is presented for the IVC to be granted. If approved, the person is transported by law enforcement to be evaluated for further review. This is all done before someone is officially committed.

If examiners conclude the person meets the criteria to be committed, a hearing is then held by a district court judge within 10 days to determine whether, in fact, the person is to be committed.

In other cases, an emergency petition may be filed if the person is found to need immediate hospitalization.

On Monday, three Wayne County Sheriff's deputies were shot in the line of duty while serving involuntary commitment papers against 23-year-old Jourdan Hamilton in Dudley. One of those deputies did not survive his injuries.

The tragic and unfortunate event renewed conversations about having mental health professionals join law enforcement officers, in tandem, when serving such papers.

Long-time forensic psychiatrist Dr. George Corvin said he feels having a mental health professional for these situations can certainly help, but there's no way to know exactly for sure.

"The fact of the matter is (deputies) are not psychiatrists. And even as a psychiatrist, walking into a situation that is unknown, that are more often than not, you may not know what weapons are available with that patient and more often than not, regardless of how much information is on the petition, there are some unknowns that you're facing," said Corvin. "We don't exactly know what is going on with that patient and what is driving that patient in terms of their behavior, aggressive or otherwise."

Ideally, Corvin would like for law enforcement officers to be best prepared when engaging in these situations.

"In a perfect world," Corvin added, "I think officers should not only have that (mental health) training in order to be able to better recognize and react to a threat situation with a mentally ill person in crisis. But I think it's also advisable for them to have access to the petitioner and those who know more about that patient and their surroundings."