1. Petition is filed with certificate
Someone must file a petition to the director of a mental health facility in the county where you are.
A person age 18 or over must sign and swear to the petition. The petition must explain why you need to be admitted. It should include the time and place of any threats or dangerous actions.
The person who is filing the petition must state whether he or she has any legal or financial involvement with you.
The person filing the petition should attach a written statement, called a "certificate," from a doctor or other highly trained mental health professional. The doctor must have personally examined you within the past 72 hours before preparing the certificate.
The certificate must state why you need immediate hospitalization.
If it is impossible to get a certificate because no doctor can be found who has or will examine you, you can be still be involuntarily admitted without one. After reading the petition, a judge can order you to be examined. In this case, the facility must release you after 24 hours of your admission, unless a certificate has been filed within that time. It is a very common practice to involuntarily admit patients without first obtaining a certificate.
At state-run facilities, you may be admitted only if staff have personally examined you within the 3 day period before your admission. They must certify that you need inpatient mental health treatment.
If you need immediate admission and the mental health center has not yet had the opportunity to examine you, you can be admitted at once. Staff from the mental health center must come to examine you within 24 hours of your admission.
3. Mental health examination
Within one business day of your admission, the facility must have you examined by a mental health professional. This is to decide whether you need to be involuntarily admitted.
If there was no certificate on the petition, then you must be evaluated by two separate examiners. The examiners cannot be the same people who signed the certificate for your admission.
The examiner must clearly explain to you that the purpose of the examination is to decide whether you need immediate admission to protect yourself or others from harm. They also must inform you that you do not have to say anything at the exam, and that anything that you do say may be disclosed at a court hearing.
The facility must release you if 2 certificates are not issued within 24 hours after your admission.
4. Begin treatment
The facility may begin treatment procedures immediately upon your admission. However, if you were admitted without a certificate, the facility can’t begin treatment until they receive the certificate.
They must inform you of your right to refuse to take medications. If you refuse medications, the facility can administer them to you only if this is necessary to prevent serious harm to yourself or others.
The facility must ask you whether you want anyone to be notified of your admission. They must notify at least 2 of the people you name.
If you have a guardian or lawyer, the facility must send them a copy of the petition within 24 hours of your admission.
The facility must also allow you to make and complete at least 2 phone calls to any person you choose.
5. Court case started
Within 1 business day of your admission, the facility director must file a copy of the petition and the certificate(s) with the court in the county where the facility is located.
There should be a court hearing within 5 business days of the filing of the petition. Notice of the time and place of the hearing must be sent to you, your spouse, your parents (if you are under 18), and to the other people that you told the facility to notify upon your admission.
Learn more about the court process.
Updated: February 2018