Posted by: Jane | December 13, 2010

The Baker Act Explained

Several times a week I notice that google has directed someone to my blog who has inputted the term(s) Baker Act in X where X equals the state of your choice. The most recent, ‘Baker Act in Ohio’ and ‘Baker Act in Maryland’. I will explain what the Baker Act is, and why it only exists in Florida.

The Baker Act, also known more formally as the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, is only in effect in Florida. That means there is no Baker Acting someone in Tennessee, Illinois, Minnesota or Vermont or anywhere else, except Florida. It’s a state law, not a federal decree.

The Baker Act was named for Florida state representative Maxine Baker, who (apparently) thought it would be great if people with mental illness, or even just the appearance of being mentally ill, could be expeditiously seized and arrested without due process, and their person dragged into biopsychiatric limbo for days, for the crime of (or suspicion of) being mentally ill.

You don’t actually get arrested-arrested (booked), because it’s not technically unlawful (yet) to be mentally ill. Although practically speaking, from those who have been through it, it does seem as though it is unlawful to be an apparently symptomatic and untreated mentally ill person in Florida.

Now I know what you are thinking. You are imagining that being Baker Acted couldn’t really be as severe as I described, right? Wrong. Did you think when you Baker Act someone, or you are Baker Acted, you get a phone call by somebody with a British accent, a cordial invitation to the nearest psychiatric hospital and the notice that there will be a chaffered limousine to drive you there when you are ready and all packed and you’ve called up work and your friends to tell them you’d be indisposed for awhile? No way, Jose.

If you are Baker Acted, you can be detained, searched and your name run through the court and legal system electronically. The police will come to wherever you are, and insist that you immediately stop doing whatever you are doing at that moment, in order to be handcuffed, stuffed into the back of a police cruiser and delivered like an escaped felon into institutionalization. Once you are under psych lock down, the cops job with you is done.

If you refuse to come willingly, you can and will be threatened with violence. And depending on your reaction to that, they may, if you are lucky, only taze you. If you are unlucky, they may taze and beat and or choke/arm lock/wrist lock you and pepper spray you into submission.

With your mood now set properly for an accurate mental health assessment, completely outraged and trembling with indignation and possibly, even probably, crying, you now get your ride to the psych hospital—a ‘Baker Act Receiving Facility’. Your tears will probably stop by the time you get there, to be replaced with rage and anxiety of what is to come. Upon your arrival and intake the psych nurses are going to take one quick look at you and take in your agitation and irritation and they will make notes about you and you will be considered to be manic or having a manic episode.

The standard treatment for a person experiencing mania is brain-damaging neuroleptics, although you probably know of the drugs as being called ‘antipsychotics’. Since you are not looking very cooperative right now, they probably won’t waste time dilly dallying, trying to be disarming with you. A psych nurse will summon several psych techs who will stand next to you like guards or bouncers and if you do not willingly accept their poison amicably right then and there, she will make a nod or other gesture and the psych techs will try to manually restrain you. Should you turn out to be a handful, many psych techs and nurses will be called and you will get padded leather restraints, a seclusion cell and the brain poison injected into you anyway, despite your wishes and protestations. That is the Baker Act explained.

Now I don’t live in and never have lived in Florida, so you would be rightfully curious about how I got involved with learning and talking about it. A couple years ago I made a video about what it means to be involuntarily committed, which is something that happened to me as a teen. What happened is, a couple weeks and then months after I made this video, I started getting private messages from people asking me for information about or if I personally knew about, the Baker Act in Florida. And of course, I hadn’t, so I was curious, and I responded with interest and a listening ear.

Well I got an earful alright. Wow, did I. The first person to contact me was a young girl, almost eighteen, whose mother and her mom’s psychiatrist, conspired to have her Baker Acted on a regular basis. For just about any reason the mother could come up with.

The Pdoc was on the mom’s team, not the daughter’s, for it was he who gave the order for the cops to come to the house, time and time again. The story I got was that the mom was mentally ill herself. According to the girl I was communicating with, the mother suffered from depression and mania and was Dxd with bipolar disorder II.

A person’s teenage years can be fraught with depressions, angst and other emotional turmoil, without the specter of real mental illness, But here we have a mother who is already sensitized because of her own diagnosis, to see and interpret her daughters hormonal or teenage depression as being mental illness in action. So if the daughter acted gloomy or even argued with her mother, the mom just jumped to the assumption that the daughter had to be suffering from bipolar depression or mania, and from what I gather, rather hysterically called up the psychiatrist in a panic, insisting the doctor Baker Act her girl immediately.

Of course when the daughter claimed she was fine and didn’t want or need help, the mom interpreted it as desperate denial and all the more reason to go spend yet another weekend on a psych ward. The daughter told me that for years she had been bounced in and out of Baker Act receiving facilities on account of her mother’s whims and ongoing mother-daughter friction. “My mom’s doctor—my doctor, always sides with her and never listens to me,” the girl complained to me.

So you ask, how? How can you abuse someone like that so easily and legally? The answer is in the wording of the Baker Act. It provides a means to get someone into psychiatric lockdown with a minimal amount of checks and balances. Under most circumstances and in most states, having someone forcibly put away takes a bit of work, and for good reason. Forced treatment involves stripping someone of many of their civil rights for a short or prolonged period.

Generally speaking, to get a commitment order on someone, a psychiatrist needs to see and assess the potential patient in person. From there, a second opinion from a psychologist or physician may be warranted and obtained. At that point, if they are in agreement, a process order goes through court to get a seal from the judge, authorizing you to be picked up and delivered to a psych hospital, whenever the cops get around to it. This usually take so long that unless you are severely and uncontrollably mentally ill, your mental and emotional states could be changed or out of danger by the time the order gets to court. You would need to be reassessed.

The Baker Act was enacted in order to cut certain corners, streamline the process of getting someone ‘help’, even against the person’s will. The result is this: A family member, relative, and even on occasion, close family acquaintances, can simply call up 911 or other emergency services, and if they can speak both convincingly and concernedly about their fears for your safety and imminent danger, then the 911 operator will call the closest psych facility, explain the situation to a psych nurse, who will page a psychiatrist, who will almost certainly listen for a moment, nod to him or herself, and give the order to have you brought in, pronto.

Perhaps you are thinking, good! A person who is suicidal should get help right away, not after they finally kill themselves. And perhaps there is some truth to that, depending on what one means by ‘help’. Certainly, some impulsively suicidal people are glad to be saved from themselves and the (usually) temporary insanity of suicidal depression. No doubt the Baker Act is used in this way frequently. The person will receive needed assistance to get through a trouble spot and if the patient is grateful for the intervention and everything turns out alright, then that’s a good thing. In those kinds of cases, the Baker Act is working as intended. Although sometimes, the person may not be grateful at all.

Another example to illustrate my point. I read a story online submitted anonymously by a young woman from Florida who had had a nasty breakup with a clingy ex-boyfriend. The prideful young man, ego terminally insulted at being dumped, had his revenge. Angered that she would be crazy enough to want to end their relationship, he called 911 and made up statements that the woman had allegedly claimed she had taken an overdose and said things which indicated major depression and suicidal ideation. Well, it worked. The cops came to her house and ‘detained’ (a euphemism for being temporarily arrested without charge) her, and brought her to a Baker Act receiving facility for intake and processing, then summary treatment.

Of course she came onto the ward mad as hell and in tears, in total confusion. She was like, “What the hell is going on here? Why is everyone acting so concerned? Why isn’t anyone listening to me?” She was surrounded by people who were utterly convinced without previous assessment or interview that this woman was psychotic or suicidal, prior to her arrival. After all, a person doesn’t get Baker Acted for no good reason, right?

The truth is, psychiatric staff believe people who are suicidal or psychotic to be suffering from a brain disease. That means your thoughts and judgments are not taken as seriously as someone who is not mentally ill, because your brain is ‘imbalanced’ and ergo, you must therefore have zero insight into your condition and hence, be frankly unable to speak for yourself or have informed consent.

Once the staff saw her like that, she was a mental patient, and no longer entitled to the same respect as someone who is not. And so the staff forcibly treated her, without just cause or patient input on the matter, thus adding further insult to existing injury. This was all a process, a bureaucratic machine whose unstoppable wheels, once engaged by the 911 call from the ex boyfriend, turned and turned, with various agencies and their employees acting out their scripts—with no apparent oversight whatsoever.

Perhaps you are thinking that the Baker Act is also used to get drunken, homeless people who are wild-eyed and muttering to themselves off the streets into good mental health care? Well the homeless people sure do appreciate the seventy-two hours spent housed, enjoying the showers and the (not) free food. But I’ve heard from some psych nurses that this tactic is used and abused by homeless people for those reasons. That they will act out in the hopes of getting picked up by the cops or outreach workers and end up spending some time hanging out in the community area watching TV at the nearest psych ward. They usually get kicked out after the seventy-two hours is up. That is, until the next time they are picked up.

Veterans also get shafted by the Baker Act. If you get angry at home and your wife or neighbors calls up the cops, and someone happens to mention that you are a vet, the police can Baker Act you themselves, based on suspicion of acting out due to PTSD or related issues. If you are lucky, they might take you to a Vet’s hospital, Probably, you will get sent to the same ward as various soccer moms, college kids and homeless people, all of whom had been Baker Acted earlier that evening as well, to spend the next seventy-two hours together.

So who in the medical and legal system is empowered to Baker Act you? A Baker Act can be initiated by physicians and mental health professionals as well as judges or other law enforcement officials. Your family doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist, as well as uniformed police officers, can initiate a Baker Act to have you brought in for examination and subject to diagnosis and treatment.

Let’s take a closer look at what ‘treatment’ means. It sounds like such a safe and hopeful word, doesn’t it? Treatment. You think, if there are treatments for mental health conditions, it makes sense to use them, right? Not necessarily.

For people of means, treatment can and often does mean judicious use of psychiatric meds, as well as plenty of therapy. Psychotherapy has a long history of proven ability to help people get their issues dealt with (Elyn Saks swears by it), and improve daily functioning. But therapist shopping until you can find a professional who is on the same wavelength and in whom you can confide and let down your barriers to, is largely a middle and upper class privilege. It’s a luxury. So if you are poor, forget it. For your treatment, you are, most likely, only going to get the drugs.

Drugs cost less than therapy and drugs are the cheapest treatment the state and local government or private psych facilities can afford to impose on you. People who work for the mental health system, whether public or private, think nothing of making sure you get ‘treatment’ because, aside from electrical brain damage, they have nothing else to quickly shut you up and get you back out on your feet, on the street, and on with your life.

Now you would think that the people who work in the psychiatric system are people who should, by their very profession, be some of the most informed people about the state of and nature of efficacious treatments. But often the situation is quite the opposite. Psych nurses and staff praise psychiatric meds for their effects and it’s really of no concern if you are suffering on their drugs. “It’s just the meds doing their magic,” they will tell you optimistically, “You’re in treatment! You are going to get better now! You just need a little help with your disease! Everything is going to be okay!” They will be so, so eerily and frighteningly happy and relieved that you are doped out on psych meds, that you will wonder if you have not suddenly slipped into an alternate reality, like The Matrix.

Chances are, the psych staff have not read Joanna’s Moncrieff’s ‘The Myth of the Chemical Cure’ or Peter Breggin’s ‘Your Drug May Be Your Problem’. They just read the lit and data sheets offered by Big Pharma that said ‘For the treatment of the symptoms of insert X mental disorder’ and that’s that. That’s what treatment is.

It turns out, that today’s psychotropic drug treatments, most of them anyway, have very little lasting positive effects. Study after study has been done showing one psychotropic drug after another after another to be no better than a placebo, and often much worse. Because a placebo won’t force your brain to grow new serotonin and dopamine receptors. A placebo probably isn’t going to give you blood poisoning like lithium, CNS damage and obesity like antipsychotics, or impotence and suicidal ideation like ‘antidepressants’ do. A placebo won’t make you homicidal or psychotic when you start or stop it.

You may be wondering, how do I Baker Act someone to get them some of this wonderful treatment? Well, you don’t, unless you live in Florida. If you live in Florida, it’s really easy, so easy, you can just make up any story you like. You won’t even have to tip over the furniture to convince the cops. If the cops get a Baker Act call, it’s just a routine standard operating procedure for them, all part of the service.

The only other states which I know for sure to have a similar statute on the books, is Ohio and California. I don’t know what the statute in Ohio is called, but it’s probably like “Ohio Mental Health Act”, or something similar. In California, it’s called a 5150—an involuntary, seventy-two hour hold.

The essence of a seventy-two hour hold is assessment and observation. Homeless people and vets held for alcohol-related disturbances, are, generally speaking, discharged once the Pdoc arrives on shift and interviews them. But if you happen to have good insurance, you may expect the doctor to come to the conclusion that a seventy-two hour hold is just not going to be enough time for a proper assessment and he or she may decide to keep you for a week, two weeks, even a month. At least until they’ve had a good feeding from your insurance teat. You see it costs anywhere from 600-1000$ or more, daily, to live in a mental hospital. To them, you are a now resource to be exploited.

By the time your insurance coverage lapses and you finally get discharged, you won’t even be the same person as you were when you arrived. Your brain and body will operate and feel differently in subtle and gross ways, due to the continuous effects of psychotropic drugs that really don’t do anything in any healing way inside you, but just sort of gum up the works of your thoughts, feelings, and even bodily sensations, until you don’t even know who you really are anymore.

If you happen to be one of the sensitive ones, your brain may now be hooked on psych meds. For most people it does take a little while for that to happen. But not everyone. If that is your case, and you try to stop the drugs they coerced or forced you to take now that you are out of the psych ward, you may suddenly be possessed by suicidal or psychotic thoughts and feelings. These feelings will be coming from you, from inside you, but they won’t be you.

You may or may not recognize that. Why? Because in all likelihood, the mental health workers told you the drugs are supposed to remedy your imbalances, not exacerbate them. They probably gave you some line about making sure you take them in the morning and at night so you don’t have a relapse. They probably did not even discuss discontinuation and tapering with you before discharge. The assumption being that a responsible patient is not going to stop treatment. Therefore, they don’t bother to tell you what might happen if you do. Namely, psychotropic drug withdrawal-induced symptoms, aka dopamine or serotonin rebound psychosis.

If you don’t recognize or know about neurotransmitter rebound psychosis, and the symptoms catch you by surprise, you may freak out and scare someone, a friend, a family member, and get Baker Acted again! Now you are fully in the mental health system. Upside down, turned around, unsure whether your depression, mania, or anxiety is really you or the effects of drug-induced damage, you sink deeper into dependency on the psychiatric ‘experts’ to get you sorted out. But you’re most likely unaware that you are now just a trial and error chemistry experiment.

Rather than put you on a safe tapering regimen to get you medwashed so they can get a baseline of how you are normally, they will probably put you on steeper doses of the drugs you were on before—under the assumption that your current symptoms are the result of not enough of a medically effective dose of the drugs in the first place! Thus restarting and hastening the process of psych med addiction in your brain, plus adding more drugs to deal with the now (hugely) increased side effects of the primary ones. You see, to those folks, getting sorted out these days means: ‘finding the right balance of meds for your needs’.

This is what happens to some people when they are Baker Acted, 5150′ed or otherwise forced into treatment against their will. If it’s you who is on the receiving end, then you are caught in a loop. And the Cheshire Cat over in the corner is not grinning. This is real. It’s really happening. To you.

After awhile of this recurring cycle it becomes harder and harder to even know what normal is anymore. It’s been forever since you’ve felt like your ‘old self’. You are a creature of psycho-pharmaceutical interaction effects beyond your control. Worse, you are probably still paying at the counter for the drugs that are doing this to you. Thanks to the effects of state-of-the-art medicine and modern chemistry, in a few more years, you may finally be dysfunctional and unhealthy enough to be eligible for permanent disability. Welcome to the system, Patient.

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Responses

  1. I wish that people with mental disorders were treated just like any one else with a physical health problem. It’s so hard to stand up for your rights if you suffer from a mental disorder, laws and the government should do that for you. Often people are scared to get help for mental issues early on because of how they may be treated and viewed as a lesser person.

    • Hello Tinamay,

      I couldn’t agree with you more. The way the system is set up now, you basically get traumatized, dehumanized and marginalized. You end up needing therapy to get over the mental health treatment that you received for mental illness.

      Thanks for visiting!


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