Human Rights and Assisted Outpatient Treatment

Guest blogger: Natasha Tracy

There are only two kinds of people in this world: those with a mental illness and those who know someone with a mental illness.

Yes, that’s right — every person’s life is either directly or indirectly affected by mental illness. If you haven’t been yet, it’s only a matter of time.

And mostly this sea of mentally ill people is comprised of people just like you. They are people with homes and cars and families and jobs. They are your neighbor, your co-worker, your friend or your brother. They are just people in their many shades and hues.

But a very tiny percentage of people with a mental illness do not fit this description. A small percentage of people with a mental illness are probably not your neighbor or your co-worker, as they do not have a home or a job. This small percentage of people may abuse substances and they may even be violent. This percentage of people is often arrested on petty crimes and dropped off at the hospital for treatment that may not even stabilize them before they are again sent out into a world that is cold, unfriendly and unforgiving.

These are the people that assisted outpatient treatment is designed to help.

What is Assisted Outpatient Treatment?
Assisted outpatient treatment is a controversial program that includes mandatory treatment in a tiny fraction of mental health cases. In cases of severe mental illness where there has been a past history of arrest or violence, the court can compel a person to remain in treatment as a condition of living in the community. Not only must the person agree to treatment, but the mental health care system is also on the hook for providing it.

The aim of this program is to treat people with a mental illness in the community rather than put them in jail or in a locked hospital ward.

An Individual’s Rights
Critics of assisted outpatient treatment claim that forcing treatment on a person is akin to denying their human rights and freedom to choose. Critics claim that no person should be subjected to mental health treatment if they do not want it. (To be clear, this program cannot force an individual to take medication, only a separate court order can do that.)

Critics Have a Point
And critics of assisted outpatient treatment have a point. Ideally, no one should have to undergo medical treatment if they do not want it.

The trouble with this argument is that people with a severe mental illness often do not appreciate the nature of their illness. This is known as anosognosia. In this condition, people are unaware that they have an illness and thus do not believe they need treatment. Anosognosia is a feature of several mental illnesses including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Human Rights
I pose this question: Don’t people with a mental illness have the right to get better? If they don’t understand that they are sick, do we not have the responsibility to treat them to the point where they can make an informed choice? If a sick person repeatedly ends up in jail or in a hospital, do we not have a responsibility to try to provide a better life for them – a life they may never have even envisioned for themselves?

We as a society need to provide for the human rights of everyone, and I would argue that a person living on the street, eating from garbage cans or being shuffled from incarceration to hospitalization is not being granted their human rights. They are living in a state in which no person deserves to live. And we are shirking our duties as a society by allowing one of our members to live in that way due to an illness that is no fault of their own. We all deserve better than that.

Click here to read about Natasha’s personal struggle with rapid cycling biopolar type 2, and visit Sharecare’s Top 10 Influencers in Depression for more information on depression and other mental illnesses.

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Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy writes the award-wining Breaking Bipolar blog on, and also hosts the Bipolar Burble blog. Natasha has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder type-II ultra-rapid-cycling, and writes primarily about mental health, bipolar disorder, depression and treatment resistant depression.

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