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The rights of the mentally ill - who’s to say you need help?

This undated family photo shows mathematician John Nash (2nd L) and his wife Alicia Nash (3rd R).
This undated family photo shows mathematician John Nash (2nd L) and his wife Alicia Nash (3rd R).
MCA/Universal Pictures/Getty Images

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If you felt a sharp pain in your abdomen or broke your leg, you very probably would see a doctor or go to an emergency room. But many people diagnosed with psychotic illness resist treatment, saying they are not mentally ill. One in 17 Americans live with a serious psychosis such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder and about one in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder. The Lanterman-Perris-Short Act, passed in California in 1967, protects the rights of people with mental illness by making treatment available on a voluntary basis and barring involuntary treatment, except in cases of violence. But many patients end up on the street unable to cope and are arrested for a violent act or taken to an emergency room. Is there a better way? What’s the appropriate threshold for intervention? What point do you let a life go to waste over ideology around personal rights?


Mark Gale, second vice-president of the California Board of Directors for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI is a volunteer advocacy organization working to help families to deal with mental illness

Dan Brzovic, associate managing attorney at Disability Rights California, an organization that works to advance the rights of Californians with disabilities

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