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If you have stumbled upon this article, chances are someone you care about is struggling with mental illness or substance abuse issues that you want to help them with. Perhaps there has been an incident that makes you think the person is a danger to themselves or others. Maybe the person is supposed to be taking steps to treat their mental health condition but refuses to do so. Perhaps the person is so deep in a substance addiction that they no longer care for themselves or pose a threat to the safety of others. Regardless of the circumstances, you have decided that you have to take action to protect this person and the people around them. Be forewarned that Iowa is the least restrictive state and will act accordingly to preserve the individual freedom of its citizens. An involuntary commitment or hospitalization should only be done with the assistance of an experienced Iowa Mental Health attorney who can prepare the best possible case for the commitment or hospitalization. Read on to find out more about involuntary commitment and hospitalization in Iowa.  


Mental Health Laws in Iowa


In Iowa, someone must either have a mental illness or substance dependency for the involuntary commitment or hospitalization process to be started. Additionally, the person must pose a threat of imminent harm to themselves or others to be considered a candidate for involuntary commitment.  


Some examples of what you might see before asking for involuntary commitment are someone who should be on medication to manage their mental health condition, who consistently fails to take their medication, or who will not or cannot participate in a rehabilitative program.  


Iowa takes involuntary commitment very seriously and will act accordingly to preserve an individual’s right to liberty. This means in plain language that the person who is the subject of the involuntary commitment proceedings will be given due process of law, including proper notice of the proceeding, the opportunity to state their side of the story, and why they should not be committed. Perhaps an attorney will be appointed to ensure that their rights are represented in court.  If you still have more question regarding involuntary mental health treatment read our article, Can I Refuse Mental Health Treatment?  

Mental Health Commitment vs. Substance Abuse Commitment


Iowa does differentiate between mental health commitment and substance abuse commitment. You should first check with the county that the party lives in to find out what resources are available for you and your family. The laws that pertain to the involuntary commitment of persons with substance abuse-related disorders can be found in Iowa code chapter 125. The laws regarding the involuntary hospitalization of mentally ill persons can be found in Iowa code chapter 299. As you can see, Iowa uses different terms for the two different issues, hospitalization and commitment. Both legal proceedings allow for the appointment of an attorney for the respondent in the matter, otherwise known as the person who might be committed or hospitalized.  

Woman sitting on couch with her face in her hand


The Procedure of Involuntary Hospitalization in Iowa


The concerned party or parties must first request a hospitalization hearing in front of a judge by filing an application along with a sworn affidavit and a physician’s report. The burden of showing that the party should be hospitalized is on the person who is asking for it. Iowa is a least restrictive state, which means it will not deprive one of its citizens of their liberty without clear and convincing evidence. In other words, it is not enough for someone to say to the court that they believe a person is mentally ill or a danger to themselves or others; they have to provide something more than just their testimony and opinions before the court will agree with them. To be perfectly clear, the court is presuming that the person does not need to be involuntarily hospitalized. You will have a brutal fight ahead of you, absent substantial evidence to the contrary. The best first step to take is to consult with an experienced Iowa attorney who can discuss the situation with you and evaluate the chances of getting the hospitalization.  


The Procedure of Involuntary Commitment in Iowa


The concerned party or parties must file an application with the court for involuntary hospitalization due to mental illness. They must also file a physician’s report along with the application in addition to the petitioner’s sworn affidavit. As with the procedure above, there must be some evidence to show, in addition to the petitioner’s testimony, some evidence that the court can look at and evaluate in order to ascertain if the respondent should be deprived of their liberty in order to protect them. As with an involuntary hospitalization, it is presumed that the respondent does not need to be committed, and it is up to you to show the court otherwise. Furthermore, the respondent can get an attorney to represent them and contest the commitment, so it is highly likely there will be a battle ahead of you. It would be best if you did not attempt to proceed with an involuntary commitment on your own. You should hire an Iowa attorney to assist you.  


If you are struggling with the mental health of a loved one or they are struggling with substance abuse issues, then you should make sure that there is no immediate danger. If you think there is an immediate danger, you should call the police. If there is no immediate danger, but you still need to explore the feasibility of an involuntary commitment or hospitalization, feel free to give O’Flaherty Law a call. We would be happy to help you.  

December 28, 2022
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