About Forced Treatment

Forced and coerced psychiatric treatment includes any type of psychiatric intervention that is carried out without an individual’s informed consent.

Individuals with real or perceived mental health disabilities are the only population that can be forced to receive medical treatment, including involuntary hospitalization, medication, electroshock therapy, and outpatient treatment.

Forced treatment is often highly traumatic. Many individuals report their mental health worsening greatly after being subjected to these practices. A recent study found that 63 percent of patients have witnessed traumatic events in psychiatric settings. 31 percent have experienced physical assault, and 8 percent have experienced sexual assault.

Most traumatizing is the loss of bodily autonomy – something that is concern to all members of society that value human rights.  Psychiatric patients on involuntary holds are frequently restrained, secluded, invasively strip searched, drugged, coerced into taking drugs without informed consent, and verbally and physically harassed. This can be all too traumatic and familiar to individuals who have experienced other forms of trauma including abuse and sexual violence. This especially impacts women, LGBTQIA individuals, and members of racial and ethnic minorities, who are significantly more likely to have experienced these types of trauma.

United Nations experts have called for an end to commitment and forced treatment, and have declared that these practices can amount to acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Many individuals return from involuntary hospitalization or forced treatment scarred and terrified of seeking help from the medical profession. Studies have shown that the number one reason that people do not seek mental health treatment is not, contrary to popular belief, stigma. It is fear. Psychiatric survivors have very good reason to be afraid of the power psychiatrists and mental health professionals have to lock them up and take away their civil liberties. It is the only kind of imprisonment that can result from an act of speech, or even from refusal to speak.

An individual who has experienced mental health treatment may have the highest likelihood of committing suicide directly after an involuntary hospitalization, according to a 2014 study in the UK that has been replicated with the same results several times. This is largely due to psychiatric survivors’ hesitance to seek help for their trauma, depression, and suicidal thoughts, for fear of re-hospitalization.

Please click here to read a personal account of forced psychiatric treatment and see a list of alternatives to forced treatment in Psych Central Pro, a blog for mental health professionals.