involuntary civil commitment

Primary tabs

Involuntary civil commitment refers to the legal process by which individuals are admitted into a treatment facility or supervised outpatient treatment against their wishes. This can be done for various reasons, including mental illness, serious developmental disability, and/or substance abuse as defined by current statutes.

In the case of mental illness, the typical commitment standard is posing a danger to self or others, with almost all states construing the inability to provide for one's basic needs as a danger to self. This means that an individual may be subject to involuntary civil commitment if they pose a threat to themselves or others, or if they are unable to provide for their basic needs due to their mental illness.

In terms of process, every state provides for a hearing, the right to counsel, and periodic judicial review, while most states have statutory quality standards for treatment and hospitalization. This ensures that individuals who are involuntarily committed have the opportunity to challenge their confinement and receive appropriate treatment and care.

In Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418 (1979), the Supreme Court held that a higher standard of proof is required for involuntary civil commitment than for other civil cases.

For additional information, please see this SAMHSA document titled Civil Commitment and the Mental Health Care Continuum: Historical Trends and Principles for Law and Practice

Additional Resources: 

  • Mental Hygiene Legal Services (MHLS) - New York State
  • Office of Mental Health (OMH) - New York State
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • National Helpline - 1-800-662-4357 - TTY: 1-800-487-4889 
  • Help4U Texting Service - Text your 5-digit ZIP Code to 435748 for additional resources
  • Crisis Lifeline - Call or text 998  
    • TTY Users: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988

[Last updated in March of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]