What is a Voluntary Patient in Mental Health?

How to Request a Discharge from a Mental Health Facility in Illinois

Video by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Article written by Illinois & Iowa Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
October 28, 2019

In this article, we explain how to request a discharge from a mental health facility in Illinois. There are two types of patients that freely admit themselves into a hospital or mental health facility: voluntary and informal.  We will answer the questions: “what is a voluntary patient in mental health?”, “can a voluntary patient discharge themselves from a psychiatric hospital?”, “what is an informal patient in mental health?”, “can an informal patient discharge themselves from a psychiatric facility?”, and “what is the difference between voluntary and involuntary admissions and discharges?”

To learn about discharge in the case of involuntary commitment, check out our article: Petitions for Discharge from Involuntary Commitment to a Mental Health Facility in Illinois.

What is a Voluntary Patient in Mental Health?

There are a few steps to become a voluntary patient in a mental health facility.  You must make a written request on a form that will be provided by the facility, and the facility must accept and admit you into their care.  A private mental health facility will only accept you as a voluntary patient if the staff decides you need inpatient care and must be admitted.  A state-run facility has a slightly different process.  State-operated facilities require that their staff has personally examined you at least three days prior to admission, and determined themselves that you have a mental illness and require inpatient care.  In other words, a state-operated facility will not admit you into care until your second visit in a three day span.

Can a Voluntary Patient Discharge Themselves from a Psychiatric Hospital?

A voluntary patient can request to be discharged at any time.  Much like the time of admission, the request for discharge must be made in writing.  Once the facility has received your written request, you must be discharged in five business days or less.  However, there are a few exceptions to this policy.  If the patient withdraws the request within the five day waiting period, the facility must allow the patient to stay.  Conversely, if the facility files a petition to keep the patient more than five days, there will be a court hearing scheduled, and the facility may elect to keep the patient in care until the hearing is held.  In this case, the patient can be held against his or her will up to two weeks after filing a petition for discharge. Finally, a voluntary patient could be held against his or her will if a petition and two certificates are submitted during the five days, effectively involuntarily admitting the patient into care.

What is an Informal Patient in Mental Health?

To be admitted as an informal patient, you must request to be admitted to a facility, and the facility must agree that you need inpatient care.  A qualified physician may approve you for outpatient care, as opposed to inpatient.  If you are accepted into care, you are free to leave at any time beginning 24-hours after being admitted, during normal business hours from 9am to 5pm.  Sometimes, upon examination, the facility director will decide than voluntary care is more appropriate than informal care, and choose to voluntarily admit the patient instead.  If this happens, the facility must notate in your records the exact reason(s) that the patient did not qualify for informal care.  If you do not agree with the assessment, you can appeal the decision to the court.

Can an Informal Patient Discharge Themselves from a Psychiatric Facility?

Yes.  Informal patients can discharge themselves at any time during the standard business hours of 9am to 5pm.  Informal patients are the only type of patients that can check out of a mental health facility of their own free will, without any further examination.

What is the Difference Between Voluntary and Informal Mental Health Admissions and Discharges?

While voluntary patients and informal patients have both chosen to admit themselves into a facility for mental health, there are a few distinct differences.  Informal patients do not have to make a formal written request to be admitted, therefore, it is much easier and faster for an informal patient to be discharged.  Voluntary patients must write a formal position for discharge, just as they had to write a formal request to be admitted.  Voluntary patients can wait up to five days to be discharged, whereas informal patients can choose to leave at any time during normal business hours, and do not need to write a formal petition to be discharged.  In short, the biggest difference between voluntary and informal admission is the ease and length of time it takes to be discharged from the facility.


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Can a Voluntary Patient Discharge Themselves from a Psychiatric Hospital?

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