New mental illness bill aims to tackle involuntary hospitalization

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A new bill hoping to tackle Hawaii’s mental health problems is scheduled to be heard next week, but enforcement and rights of citizens could pose roadblocks to change.

State Representative Cynthia Thielen is looking to change the language for involuntary hospitalization to include those deemed gravely disabled and obviously ill, as well as increasing involuntary hospitalization minimum from 48 hours to 82 hours.

“This will allow law enforcement to step in when someone is gravely ill or whether they obviously need help and aren’t able to reach out and say I need that.” Representative Thielen said.

The language differs from involuntary hospitalization for people who pose a danger to oneself or others.

With police being the initial decision-makers on who is gravely disabled or obviously ill in the bill, opponents are skeptical of the power and abuse possible with involuntary hospitalization without a crime committed. It is something that the ACLU has fought against and won in the Supreme Court.

“My response is that the ACLU took it too far.” Representative Thielen said.

“They said hands off of everyone. You can’t do that when a person is unable to take care of themselves. I say you took the pendulum all the way into the end, now it’s time to pull it back a little bit and let’s say yes we can intervene.”

Many with mental illness are unable to seek help because they often don’t realize their illness. Thielen Hopes the increase to 72 hours will help self-awareness but admits she hasn’t consulted with a mental health professional.

“The hope is that after the 72 hour period of time the person is going to be able to interact with the caregivers and be able to make some decisions for herself or himself and say yes I would like to have some more help. I would like to stabilize a bit longer.” Representative Thielen said.

As for the strain on already thin resources at Hawaii State Hospital and other mental health facilities across Oahu, Thielen says the load incurred will be worth it.

“I know this puts more burden on the system but it’s a necessary burden. We need to obviously expand the care facilities in the way we’re providing help to people.”

HB2680 will be heard Wednesday, February 5th at 9:00 am in the Hawaii State Capitol.

The public can give their testimony here.

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