Site helps severely mental ill people plan for the worst

    The advocacy organization Mental Health America is launching a new website that helps people with “psychiatric advance directives.” The directive is like a living will specific to treating mental illness.

    Because those living with severe mental illness typically have periods of ups and downs, experts urge them to plan ahead for when they are not well.

    A psychiatric advance directive spells out what kinds of treatment a patient wants to receive, who should be notified and allowed to visit, and who is the point person for coordinating treatment.

    The new website called “My Plan My Life” walks people through writing the document. The information is important for care providers, says Dr. David Shern, group director.

    “Not every treatment is effective for every individual, so what a psychiatric advance directive allows someone to do is to specify what things have worked for them in the past,” he said.

    It could also keep a person out of the hospital said Shern. That’s often where people  end up when decisions are made by overwhelmed family members in a crisis.

    “Rather than having a stark, black and white choice between going in the hospital and not going in, it can talk about what can be helpful in times of crisis, alternatives that are available that people would like to try,” said Shern.

    Therapists and other treatment providers say they encourage their clients to fill out the advance directives. While awareness around this issue has been increasing, a recent survey of 1,000 psychiatric patients found fewer than 10 percent actually had completed one.

    Shern hopes that the new website will provide people with the resources to get the paperwork done. It also provides links to state-specific forms and rules.

    Advance directives are legally binding in many states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, but have slightly different names.

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