Mental illness is one of the biggest topics of conversation in America today. More people than ever before are sharing their stories about living with mental illness in an effort to normalize what was once viewed as being taboo and shameful. This awareness does not change the amount of people who are grappling with the effects of mental illness, but it does empower people to help those in need.
In the state of Florida, the Baker Act was legalized in 1972 and named after then State Representative Maxine Baker, who sponsored the act. The Baker Act Florida is designed to be utilized as a worst-case scenario tool for the friends and family of loved ones who are not within their own means and abilities to care for themselves due to mental illness.
What is the Baker Act?
The Baker Act, which is formally known as the Florida Mental Health Act of 1972, is legislation that allows for the involuntary examination and institutionalization of a person who potentially has a mental illness and/or who is in danger of putting themselves or others at risk because of potential mental illness. In order for someone to be “Baker Acted”, they must meet the following criteria as determined by a judge, law enforcement officer, or a mental health professional:
- There is reason to believe that a person is mentally ill. This means an impairment of the mental or emotional processes that exercise conscious control of one’s actions or of the ability to perceive or understand reality, which impairment substantially interferes with a person’s ability to meet the ordinary demands of living, regardless of etiology. This term does not include retardation or developmental disability, intoxication, or conditions manifested only by antisocial behavior or substance abuse impairment.
- Because of their mental illness, a person has refused voluntary examination or is unable to determine whether examination is necessary and ;
- Without care or treatment, the person is likely to suffer from neglect resulting in real and present threat of substantial harm that can’t be avoided through the help of others; or there is a substantial likelihood that without care or treatment the person will cause serious bodily harm to self or others in the near future as evidenced by recent behavior.
As mentioned before, the only individuals in power to enact the Baker Act Florida include a judge, a law enforcement officer, or a mental health professional like a physician, clinical psychologist, psychiatric nurse, or a clinical social worker. Family members, friends, co-workers, etc. do not have the power to enforce the Baker Act Florida on an individual, but they are able to start the process by contacting any one of the above listed professionals. Friends, family, and loved ones are within their legal rights to ask for an initiation of the Baker Act if:
- They have reason to believe the person is mentally ill
- The person refuses voluntary examination
- The person is unable to determine for themselves if a professional examination is necessary
The Baker Act may only be considered for recent behaviors that meet this criteria. This means that behaviors that previously occurred do not warrant the initiation of the Baker Act. The person in question must be currently in danger of harming themselves or others due to an active mental illness.
How Does the Baker Act Florida Work?
If a person in position to initiate the Baker Act deems it appropriate for the person in question, then that person will be involuntarily institutionalized for no more than 72 hours. During that time, an examination will be performed to determine if the person is suffering from a debilitating mental illness. From there, the following occurs:
- If a person is determined to be unable to make knowing mental health decisions for themselves, the hospital will petition for treatment of the individual
- A mandatory exam will be performed by a clinical psychological or physician to determine how severe the patient’s mental illness is and what level of care is most appropriate for them
- If the mandatory exam was not performed by a clinical psychologist, a second one must be conducted to support/negate the physician’s findings
If a patient meets all criteria to be Baker Acted, then they will be involuntarily placed into inpatient or outpatient programming for six months following their involuntary institutionalization. If a patient does not meet the criteria needed to be Baker Acted at any point in this process, they will be fully discharged.
Should I Initiate the Baker Act on my Loved One?
Having a loved one who has an untreated mental illness is extremely difficult, as their behaviors can make for extreme frustration, worry, sadness, and even fear. If you have a loved one who is struggling with mental illness and they are unwilling to get help, when is it possible for you to legally intervene? If your loved one in question is a Florida resident, you can initiate the Baker Act, which can help them get the care they need. Making the call to get the process started, though, can be overwhelming, which is why it helps to know when you should consider the Baker Act. Some warning signs that your loved one may not be able to make sound decisions because of their mental illness and may require the Baker Act include the following:
- Complete and utter refusal of any level of professional treatment
- Harming themselves as a result of their mental state
- Harming others (or about to) as a result of their mental state
- Inability to care for themselves in ways that support their survival
- Being unable to control their behaviors and actions
Again, these warning signs cannot be tied to issues such as retardation, substance use disorder, or a developmental disability if you want the Baker Act enacted. In order to ensure that you are making the right decision, spend time reading the legislation regarding the Baker Act and inform yourself of the criteria that your loved one must meet. The more information you have about the Baker Act, the more able you are to decide what your next steps should be.
Do You or a Loved One Need Help? Call Us Right Now.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental illness and/or a substance use disorder, reach out to us right now. We can help make this chaotic time easier to process and aid in you or your loved one’s overall recovery.
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