New law designed to modernize Delaware mental health laws

Gov. Markell signs changes to Delaware's mental health laws. (photo courtesy Gov. office)

Gov. Markell signs changes to Delaware's mental health laws. (photo courtesy Gov. office)

Gov. Jack Markell signed a major overhaul of Delaware’s mental health laws in an effort to improve service provided for individuals with mental illness.

During a signing ceremony at the New Castle campus of the Department of Health and Social Services, Gov. Markell said the changes would modernize the state’s mental health laws. Many of these laws “had not been updated since the 1950’s,” he said.

As part of the changes, the number of involuntary admissions and commitments are expected to decline. That’s because more than 350 mental health screeners will be sent to evaluate individuals and decide whether emergency detention is warranted.

“The majority of people in a mental health crisis don’t don’t need to be handcuffed,” said bill sponsor Rep. Mike Barbieri, D-Newark. “This bill brings mental health screeners to the scene of any incident to offer an immediate evaluation.”

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There are also specific changes for juveniles. The bill provides increased access to treatment for minors and updates the rules for discharge and involuntary treatment similar to provisions for adults.

The changes stem from the work done by the Mental Health Study Group, headed up by Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf.

“This is an important day in Delaware for the civil rights of all individuals with serious and persistent mental illness,” Landgraf said. “For more than a year, stakeholders from across the mental health system came together to work on recommendations that would become HB 346.”

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