The COVID-19 pandemic has generated waves of mental health concerns, both for people who have previously struggled with mental illness and for those who have not. The current uncertainty and widespread panic would shake even the most stolid of hearts. Consider a situation in which you, a friend, or a family member is experiencing anxiety, fear, depression, or other mental health concern. Who are you going to call?
I’ll give you a hint, it’s not Ghostbusters. It would be convenient if our anxiety and fears could be boxed up and stored underground like little green ghosts. Unfortunately, coping with mental health crises is more complex. When you or someone you love is struggling to handle anxiety, fear, or exacerbation of previous mental illness, it is important to know what resources are available within the Texas legal system.
When to call 911
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911. Law enforcement agencies are still up and running. While most police departments are taking reports for things like theft and traffic accidents online and over the phone, officers are still responding to assaults in progress and other emergency calls.
DO NOT call 911 if you want to report seeing a non-essential business open or groups of 10 or more people that you believe violate the current shelter-in-place orders. Most counties have now implemented COVID-19 hotlines that are the appropriate way to report these violations.
When to call an MHMR hotline
If you are experiencing unusual anxiety, stress, or emotional challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and need support, you can call the statewide hotline at 833-986-1919. This line is monitored by Texas Health and Human Services and is available 24/7. Additionally, Mental Health America, a national nonprofit organization, is offering support to people who text “MHA” to 741741.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or having suicidal thoughts, call your county’s MHMR crisis hotline. Many counties have experienced mental health deputies who will respond and, if necessary, transport the person having the crisis to a mental health treatment facility. If the person poses a threat to himself or others due to their mental health state, it is likely they will be detained for treatment pursuant for an emergency detention under the Texas Health and Safety Code.
When to call an attorney
When someone you are close to has recently had a mental health crisis, consider whether it is time to retain an attorney. A person being detained at a mental health facility, either voluntarily or involuntarily, has the right to hire an attorney.
If the person is being detained at a mental health treatment facility pursuant to an emergency detention, the involuntary civil commitment process has begun. This is a process wherein a person can be temporarily committed to a mental health treatment facility, involuntarily, until they no longer pose a serious risk of harm to themselves or others.
If a person experiencing a mental health crisis needs to remain at a treatment facility for their own safety or the safety of others, the county or district attorney’s office will file an Application for Court-Ordered Mental Health Services in the county’s probate court. The probate judge will then schedule a hearing and appoint an attorney to represent the proposed patient, if the proposed patient does not already have an attorney. The proposed patient has the right to retain personal legal counsel at their own expense instead of accepting the court-appointed counsel.
At the hearing, the court will determine whether the proposed patient can be released or must remain in the hospital for further treatment. If someone you love has been detained for treatment at a mental health hospital, you may consider assisting the patient in retaining their own counsel.
On the other hand, if you have an elderly parent or an adult child who may not be an immediate danger to himself or others, but who can no longer make decisions in their best interest or care for themselves, consider retaining an attorney to obtain a guardianship. In that event, the attorney would represent you and not the elderly parent or adult child. Temporary guardianships, i.e. guardianship cases that need to be heard immediately because a person who is incapacitated will be harmed or exploited, are essential matters and therefore are still being heard by the courts.