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A person who poses a serious risk to himself or his community due to mental illness can be forcefully hospitalized for up to 3 days, pursuant to M.G.L. c. 123, §12.

The statute authorizes the following people to apply for such hospitalization:

  • Physicians,
  • Qualified psychologists,
  • Qualified advanced practice nurses, or
  • Licensed clinical social workers.

Additionally, if none of these professionals is readily available, a police officer may apply for a person’s hospitalization.

Ideally, the person should be clinically evaluated prior to any application being made for his hospitalization.  However, such an evaluation is not immediately necessary if the person refuses to comply or the circumstances require postponing the evaluation.

Once hospitalized, however, the person must be evaluated at the facility—unless the application for hospitalization was made by a physician or advanced practice nurse.

At the hospital, the person must be informed of his right to counsel.  He may have his own attorney represent him or a public defendant can be appointed.

The person must also be informed that he has the right to contest the hospitalization in district court.  The court must hear the person’s request within one day of its submission.

Although the mental health statute states that forced hospitalization cannot last beyond 3 days, the facility’s superintendent can extend this 3-day limit if he deems it necessary.

Application for a mentally ill person’s hospitalization can also be made by any concerned citizen.  First, an application for hospitalization must be submitted to district court. 

The application must state the reasons why the person’s mental illness creates a threat to the person or the community.  The court will hold a hearing on the application and, if the threat of harm appears genuine, the judge will issue a warrant for the mentally ill person’s apprehension. 

After the person is detained, he will be evaluated by a physician or other qualified clinician.  If the evaluation suggests that hospitalization is necessary, the person will be admitted for up to 3 days.