New Jersey begins involuntary outpatient commitment program for real

    New Jersey is rolling out a mental health initiative that became law in 2009. The state just awarded $3 million to implement the “Involuntary outpatient commitment” program.

    When severely mentally ill people are committed into treatment against their will, they usually end up in a psychiatric hospital. Increasingly, states are looking to “outpatient” options that are less intrusive and less costly.

    “To get people help before they end up in emergency rooms, before tragedy occurs, before they end up homeless or in jail,” said Kristina Ragosta from the Treatment Advocacy Center. Her organization supported this option in New Jersey, and other states. Three years after New Jersey’s outpatient commitment law went into effect, the state has come up with the dollars to get the program started.

    The funding will allow mental health providers to screen individuals before ordering them into treatment.

    Roger Borichewski of New Jersey’s division of mental health services says the funding will allow providers to screen individuals, and to make sure they are actually following their treatment plan.

    “Assuring that they get to appropriate appointments, helping them with transportation if necessary, making sure they are getting to their medical and doctors appointments as well as their therapy appointments, and then getting them to court hearings,” said Borichewski.

    He added that this type of treatment is far less disruptive than an extended stay in a psych ward.

    “Individuals can often lose their housing, and hospitalizations do interrupt their life in the communities,” said Borichewski.

    Involuntary outpatient commitment is a controversial issue for many mental health advocates, as some fear it will be misused as a tool to force people into treatment and use medications against their will.

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