New law helps protect the mentally ill in Delaware

Those suffering with mental illness in Delaware now have new protections under a bill signed into law by Governor Jack Markell on Tuesday.

The new law changes the way the state responds to mentally ill patients who may need treatment.  Previously, those patients would be handcuffed by police and taken to the emergency room.  The new law allows more discretion and is designed to send patients to the least restrictive care setting necessary.

Governor Markell signed HS1 for HB 311 into law at the Rick VanStory Resource Center in Wilmington.  The drop in center offers support for people with psychiatric disabilities.  “We’re not a country that traditionally when someone has an illness, you don’t put them in the back of a police car.”  Markell added the new law, “makes sure that people are treated the way they deserve to be treated.”

Allen Conover, executive director of the Rick VanStory Resource Center, says the new law is the result of the patient community clamoring for change.  “We squeaked, you heard, and change happened.”

Markell also signed House Joint Resolution 17, which creates a study group to assess all of Delaware’s civil mental health laws. “This is a giant step for mental health in our state,” said the resolution’s sponsor Representative Earl Jacques, D- Glasgow.  He says addressing mental health issues is difficult because the signs of illness are not visible like someone with a broken arm.  “When you have mental health issues, they are not visual.”  He says that often leads to a stigma for those affected.

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