Sometimes, help must be forced

Editor’s opinion from the Portland Tribune, August 12, 2010

Oregon does its mentally ill citizens no favors when it allows them to place themselves or others in harm’s way rather than be civilly committed — a process that admittedly interferes with their rights, but also forces the mentally ill to receive the treatment they need.

In response to a recent Tribune article by Peter Korn, we have heard from many people debating whether Oregon and other states have made it too difficult to have people civilly committed. The issue is prominent now, in part because several people suffering from mental illness have died during encounters with local police. If these men had been forced to receive help, some suggest, they might never have found themselves engaged in a police confrontation.

One advocate for better use of existing civil commitment law is Aileen Kroll, who in a column elsewhere on this page, sums up the fundamental question quite accurately: “There is nothing softhearted or ethical about dooming people too sick to get help for themselves to living on the streets or in jail cells, to being victims or perpetrators of violence, and to being lost to themselves and society when they could be productive.”

We agree with Kroll’s point and also with her suggestion that authorities in Oregon can do more to place people who are mentally at risk into court-ordered outpatient care — where they will receive the help and medication they need to avoid potentially fatal behavior and situations.