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The ethical dilemma of involuntary mental health treatment

By Jonathan Chang & Deborah Becker

Several states have changed their policies in recent years to make involuntary commitment easier for people with severe mental illnesses.

But forced treatment still raises civil rights questions, with some saying it can harm, not help patients.

Today, On Point: The ethical dilemma of involuntary mental health treatment.


Will James, host of KUOW and The Seattle Times’ “Lost Patients” podcast.

Dominic Sisti, associate professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania. Director of the Scattergood Program for the Applied Ethics of Behavioral Health Care.

Also Featured

Laura Craciun, a mother whose son struggles with bipolar I disorder with psychotic features and anosognosia.

Stefanie Lyn Kaufman-Mthimkhulu, founder and executive director of Project LETS.


Part I

DEBORAH BECKER: This is On Point. I’m Deborah Becker in for Meghna Chakrabarti.

Understanding mental illness of a loved one often means looking back.

JON CHANG: Tell me about Nick as a child. I mean, what was he like growing up? What kind of son was he?

LAURA CRACIUN: Adorable. He looked like a little Ewok in a Star Wars film. And when he was younger, he would excel at any sport we introduced to him, including gymnastics and hip-hop dance, and was the best charades player I'd ever seen, and just so creative.

BECKER: That’s Laura Craciun, an artist on Cape Cod, speaking with On Point producer Jonathan Chang about her son Nick.

We should note this story contains descriptions of violence.

Nick was an athlete with a big heart, Laura says. … But there was something else that clouded over his childhood.

CRACIUN: The thing that plagued him most of his life, really, was that he could hear and see things that weren't real. And that started very early on in diapers. We would see him sometimes leave the house, saying there was something in it, and he didn't feel safe. And he also had anxiety that we were going to die.

BECKER: Laura visited three different neurologists, who prescribed ADHD medications … but not much more. Laura says she trusted their expertise. But years later, Nick got a different diagnosis.

After graduating from high school in 2020, Nick Craciun was living with his father in Cambridge, Massachusetts and struggling to keep a job.

In 2022, his father lost his job as a caretaker … and was at the risk of losing his home.

That April, Nick ran away from home without notice.




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