Recall in the second scenario the man who was throwing his furniture out of his apartment due to concerns that someone or something was trying to take over his room. How would you apply involuntary commitment criteria here?
1. Does this person want to harm himself or someone else?
There isn’t compelling evidence that he wanted to harm himself—if anything, he suggested that his behaviors were attempts at self-preservation.
Though he never said that he wanted to harm someone else, his behavior was inadvertently putting other people in danger: He had already thrown stuff out the window, where it could have injured people on the sidewalk. He also threw a guitar in your direction, though, thankfully, it didn’t hit you.
2. How imminent is this risk of harm to self or others?
Imminent. He does not appear to be responding to direction to stop throwing things and perhaps it is only luck that the items he has thrown has not hurt anyone.
3. Are these behaviors due to a psychiatric condition?
Given what we know about his history and the timeline of events, it seems likely that these behaviors are due to a psychiatric condition. However, these behaviors could feasibly be due to drug use or medical problems.
Related: Will hospitalization help treat the underlying psychiatric condition?
Probably. Hospitalization has historically helped this man recover from his acute symptoms.
What actually happened?
After the guitar crashed into the wall, other people—neighbors, staff—arrived. The man had retreated back into his room and continued to shout: “People don’t UNDERSTAND none of this is MINE how did this even HAPPEN why did I think it was OKAY I won’t let it happen again I won’t let it happen again—”
After tucking myself around the corner, I shooed away the neighbors; they needed to get out of there for their own safety. A social worker used her hands to mime making a phone call, her eyebrows raised as if asking a question. I nodded.
“Hey,” I said in a quiet voice1, “I’m sorry you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just so you know, though, we’re calling 911. I’m worried about you.”
He grabbed the clock off of the wall with one hand and a framed photo of his sister and him with the other and threw both out the window. Both shattered when they hit the sidewalk.
“I DON’T CARE you can do whatever the F@#$ you want I just NEED to get rid of all this SH!T—”
The rest of us waited.
Before the police and paramedics arrived, he had thrown a floor lamp, more silverware, and much of his clothing out the window. Papers were scattered on the floor. He smashed all the mirrors in his apartment. He tore the curtains from the walls. He threw several pieces of fruit, one remote control, and his pillows out into the hallway.
I braced myself as the police appeared in the hallway. Please cooperate… please cooperate… I hope the cops won’t be jerks…
The social worker had already briefed the police and paramedics about the situation.
“You Dr. Yang?” an officer asked. I nodded.
“And that’s the guy?”
“We’ll take it from here. Can you write an affidavit?“2
He was rummaging through his closet when the officers knocked on the door. He looked over his shoulder and paused as the officers greeted him. A few beats of silence followed.
“OH GOD WHY WON’T THEY LEAVE ME ALONE?” the man suddenly bawled. He fell to the ground and began to weep. After glancing at each other and then me, the officers and paramedics walked in.
He initially balked at their overtures about transport to the hospital, though he ultimately agreed. He choked on his sobs on the gurney as the paramedics wheeled him down the hallway.
He was in the hospital for over a month.
At our next appointment, he sat in the chair, his eyes glazed over, his body twenty pounds heavier.
“I’m sorry about what happened that day,” he said.
“That’s okay,” I murmured. “I’m glad you’re here.”
- The next time you’re trying to lower the volume of someone else’s voice, try lowering the volume of your own voice. It’s hard to yell when the other person is barely audible. ↩
- An affidavit is a written declaration that is used in court, in this case to hospitalize this man against his will. The police were asking me to write the affidavit because of my credential and because of my relationship with the patient. This affidavit included my opinion that he was a danger to others, given that he had thrown a guitar at me and had continuously thrown items out of his window. ↩