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When a Person Wants to Be Released from a Psychiatric Hospital

PDF version: When a Person Wants to Be Released from a Psychiatric Hospital (PDF file)

Disclaimer: This publication is intended to provide information only, and is not intended as legal advice. You should consult a lawyer if you need legal advice.

The Right to Be Told Your Rights

If you are not charged with a crime but have been taken to a psychiatric hospital against your wishes, the hospital must tell you and give in writing the following information:

  1. You may immediately make telephone calls in order to get help with legal, medical and mental health issues.
  2. You have a right to hire your own lawyer. If you can't afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one to work with you.
  3. You have the right to an independent expert evaluation of your mental condition. If you can't afford this evaluation, it must be provided to you at no charge.
  4. You have a right to a hearing where a judge or referee will decide whether or not you will be labeled mentally ill and found to be in need of hospitalization by court order. This is called a "civil commitment hearing."

Find Out Whether You are a Voluntary or Involuntary Patient

Your rights in the hospital can depend on whether you are a voluntary or involuntary patient. If you do not know whether you are a voluntary or involuntary patient, you can ask the hospital clients' rights officer to find out for you.

Voluntary Patient

"Voluntary" patient means that you (or your court appointed guardian if you have one) want to admit yourself into a psychiatric hospital. If you have admitted yourself into a psychiatric hospital, you can not simply sign yourself out and leave when you decide to do so. There is a process which must be followed in order to leave. The hospital staff can try to keep you by asking the court to commit you. If the court orders you to stay at the hospital, you become an "involuntary patient."

If you are an voluntary patient, you have the right to request your release from the hospital by writing a "three-day letter." The hospital must inform you of your right to ask to be released from the hospital. You write a three day letter by asking in writing for your release from the hospital. If you ask for help, the hospital must provide you with help in making this request. Your letter can be short. Write your letter to the hospital Medical Director and state that you want to leave. Hospital staff, with approval from your county Mental Health Board, will decide whether or not to release you or to ask the court for an order to keep you at the hospital.

After you hand in your three-day letter, the hospital has 3 work days (Monday through Friday - not weekends and holidays) to tell you whether or not you should leave. It is important to know that, even if you signed yourself in voluntarily, hospital staff can keep you if they think you should stay by filing papers to try to commit you. One of three things can happen after you sign a three-day letter:

  1. Hospital agrees you should leave: If the hospital agrees that you should be released, you get to leave; OR
  2. Hospital wants you to stay: When the hospital staff wants to keep you longer, they must file papers (called an affidavit) within 3 work days of receiving your letter. Your request for release becomes a request for a hearing. You will receive notice of a court hearing; OR
  3. If the hospital does not file an affidavit within three work days, you must be released immediately.

Involuntary Patient

"Involuntary patient" means that you are placed or kept in the hospital against your wishes by a court order. Anyone can sign a paper (called an affidavit) saying you are "mentally ill and in need of hospitalization by court order." The court will decide whether or not you meet the legal definition of mental illness, and whether you are an immediate danger to yourself or others. If the court finds that you are mentally ill and that you present a danger, you can be ordered (committed) to your county's Mental Health Board. The Board can then place you at the hospital. Involuntary patients can also request their release from the hospital.

If you are an involuntary patient, you can request to become a voluntary patient. You have the right to ask to become a voluntary patient at any time. If you have been involuntarily committed to the hospital by a court and want to try to leave the hospital, you can request voluntary admission. You can ask to change from an involuntary to a voluntary patient by making an application for voluntary admission.

The hospital must convince the court that you meet the legal definition of mental illness and, because of that, you are an immediate danger to yourself or others. If you do not meet these standards you should not be committed to the hospital be the court. If the court finds that you are mentally ill and present a danger to yourself or others, the court can order you to be hospitalized against your wishes for 90 days.

The hospital can ask the court to keep you for more than 90 days. If the agency or hospital to which you are committed wants to keep you for longer than 90 days, it must file with the court an application for continued commitment. This application must be filed at least 10 days before your period of commitment is over. If the application is not filed at least 10 days before your 90 days is up, you must be discharged immediately. A full hearing must be held. The hospital must prove to the court that you are a danger to yourself or others. If the court decides to commit you it may order you held for up to 2 years. A hearing must then be held at least every 2 years. Although hearings must be held every 2 years without your request, you can request a hearing every 180 days.

After the court has ordered you to stay at the hospital, the hospital must examine you at least every 30 days. When the hospital finds that you are no longer mentally ill and a danger to yourself or others, the hospital must discharge you.

Remember These Rights

  • You have the right to request voluntary admission;
  • You have to right to a court appointed attorney at the court hearing;
  • You have the right to ask for help from hospital staff to make sure that your rights are carried out;
  • You have the right to file a grievance with the hospital if you feel your rights have been violated. You can ask the hospital's clients' rights officer for help in filing your grievance.

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Document Publication Date March 2004

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