Mental Illness is a serious and sometimes insidious disease. It's onset may be gradual; building up over a period of time, or it may appear suddenly, escalating to a violent crescendo within a matter of hours or days. In either situation, it is crucial for a husband or wife to know the signs of the need for immediate and emergency intervention, or when to Baker Act.
The Baker Act allows for involuntary examination (what some call emergency or involuntary commitment). Baker Acting is initiated by Judges, Law Enforcement officials, or mental health professionals. Spouses may often feel guilty over having to have their loved one Baker Acted, especially if this is the first incident, and there has been no professional involvement through a psychiatrist, or other mental health professional. However, because of the nature of a spousal relationship allows them to know the usual or "normal" behavior of their spouse, they are in the unique position of being the absolute best person to initiate a Baker Act. In order fro a person to be Baker Acted, there must be evidence that the person: has a mental illness (as defined in the Baker Act) and is a harm to self, harm to others, or self neglectful (as defined in the Baker Act). Examinations may last up to 72 hours.
Spouses need to watch for signs of: Suicidal/Homicidal attempts; or suicidal/homicidal threats or plans, where the spouse has recently purchased a gun or other lethal weapon.
Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use that leads to spouse acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, acting seemingly without thinking
Experiencing audio/visual hallucinations
Dramatic mood changes that may include rages, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
Refusing to care for him/herself as such neglect poses a real and present threat of substantial harm; such as refusal to take prescribed medication i.e. insulin injections or psychotropic medications.
There are many possible outcomes following examination of the patient. This includes the release of the individual to the community (or other community placement), a petition for involuntary inpatient placement (what some call civil commitment). Involuntary outpatient placement (what some call outpatient commitment or assisted treatment orders), or voluntary treatment (if the person is competent to consent to voluntary treatment and consents to voluntary treatment).
Mental illness is a treatable disease, and should not be looked upon with shame or as a betrayal. Heeding the warning signs of severe mental illness and contacting a professional is the most recommended form of treatment, however, when the need arises for crisis care and intervention, such as through the Baker Act Process, time is of the essence, and care should be given to act quickly, and assuredly, for the well being of a spouse, and for everyone concerned.