This study examined the predictors of actions to initiate involuntary commitment of individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.


Emergency services clinicians throughout Virginia completed a questionnaire following each face-to-face evaluation of individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. Over a one-month period in 2007, a total of 2,624 adults were evaluated. Logistic hierarchical multiple regression was used to analyze the relationship between demographic, clinical, and service-related variables and outcomes of the emergency evaluations.


Several factors predicted 84% of the actions taken to initiate involuntary commitment. These included unavailability of alternatives to hospitalization, such as temporary housing or residential crisis stabilization; evaluation of the client in a hospital emergency room or police station or while in police custody; current enrollment in treatment; and clinical factors related to the commitment criteria, including risk of self-harm or harm to others, acuity and severity of the crisis, and current drug abuse or dependence.


A lack of intensive community-based treatment and support in lieu of hospitalization accounted for a significant portion of variance in actions to initiate involuntary commitment. Comprehensive community services and supports for individuals experiencing mental health crises may reduce the rate of involuntary hospitalization. There is a need to enrich intensive community mental health services and supports and to evaluate the impact of these enhancements on the frequency of involuntary mental health interventions.

Richard J. Bonnie et al., Decisions to Initiate Involuntary Commitment: The Role of Intensive Community Services and Other Factors, 64 Psychiatric Services 120–126 (2013).