You have the right to ask for treatment at a mental health facility. You can do this by asking for either voluntary or informal admission.
Don’t be pressured to admit yourself
Sometimes a person agrees to enter a facility only because they were pressured by police, family members, doctors, or others. You have some rights to prevent doctors from doing this.
It is against the law for a doctor to threaten to have you involuntarily admitted if you refuse to admit yourself, unless the doctor:
- Truly intends to take steps to have you involuntarily admitted; and
- Informs you that you will be entitled to a court hearing to fight the involuntary admission, and the right to be represented by a lawyer at the hearing.
To be voluntarily admitted, you must complete a written application on the form provided by the facility. If you request, another adult acting on your behalf may complete the application.
If you are age 16 or 17, you have the right to ask for voluntary admission as an adult. However, the law requires that the facility notify your parents or legal guardians immediately if you are admitted.
Deciding whether you need inpatient treatment
A facility will admit you only if you need inpatient treatment. At private facilities, the staff makes this decision.
At state-operated facilities, the process is different. The facility may admit you 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 are voluntarily admitted to a facility, you can ask at any time to be discharged. You must make your request for discharge in writing. Upon receiving your request, the facility must discharge in 5 business days or less.
However, the facility can file a petition in court to ask to keep you past the 5 days. If this happens, there will be a court hearing. The facility may continue to hospitalize you while waiting for this hearing. Therefore, a "voluntarily admitted" patient can be involuntarily hospitalized for 2 or more weeks after requesting discharge.
Informal admission is another way that you can voluntarily enter a mental health facility. It is similar to voluntary admission. The difference is that you have the right to be discharged much more quickly. All of the above rules relating to voluntary admissions apply, except that:
- You do not need to make a formal application for admission;
- Once admitted, you have the right to request that you be discharged immediately at any time during normal daytime business hours.
If you request an informal admission, but the facility decides to admit you under the voluntary admission process instead, the facility must write in your records why informal admission is not appropriate for your care.
It is important that you find out whether your admission is informal or voluntary.
Updated: February 2018