PA Stabbing Case Shows Mental Health Commitment Issues


Having someone involuntarily committed for a mental health evaluation in Pennsylvania is not easy, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Experts say the state’s 31-year-old Mental Health Procedures Act tries to balance individual rights against the need to protect society from those with dangerous illnesses. The family of Troy Hill Jr. argues that the mental health system failed the 18-year-old because his parents sought help from Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic the day before the youth allegedly stabbed his 11-year-old twin stepbrothers, one fatally, in the boys’ home.

The family expressed concerns about his increasingly troubling behavior, including reclusiveness, but a Western Psych crisis intervention team advised the family only to observe the youth. Under the law, for an involuntary commitment to occur, there needs to be an observed “clear and present danger of harm to others or to himself.” Mental illness is not enough for an involuntary commitment. Dr. Barry Fisher, a psychiatrist and immediate past president of the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society, said the law must strike a difficult balance. “It can never be a perfect law and the reason for that is the reality, contrary to popular mythology, is that no one is good at predicting dangerousness, including those in the mental health field. We may be a little better than other people but not much. It is just so hard to predict.”


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