Mental health has become a national health crisis in the last decade. More and more, clinicians, public health experts, and policymakers have identified mental health as the leading cause of numerous public health issues facing Californians. However, the public is not always aware of how mental illness can impact a person’s legal and create criminal and civil liability for someone struggling with a disease or disability.
Thus, understanding how the law intersects with mental health is crucial to protecting oneself, loved ones, and the public. A Long Beach mental health lawyer at Simmrin Law Group can step in and help if you are facing charges, so please do not put off contacting our office immediately.
The Growing State of the Mental Health Crisis
The rapid rise in mental health-reported deaths, injuries, and costs has been studied and analyzed by dozens of governments, universities, and advocacy in numerous ways. Notably, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a nonprofit organization focused on national health issues, has documented our nation’s mental health crisis in detail.
According to data compiled by KFF throughout the last decade, Californians suffer an epidemic of mental illness and untreated mental health-related issues:
- Between September 29 and October 11, 2021, 32.0% of California adults reported suffering from anxiety and/or depressive disorder symptoms, compared to 31.6% of adults nationally.
- Between September 29 through October 11, 2021, 29.9% of adults in California reported experiencing anxiety and/or depressive disorder symptoms but were unable to receive counseling or therapy—compared to 26.9% nationally.
- In 2018, the average out-of-pocket medical cost for Californians suffering from mental illness was $1,106, while Californians without mental illness only paid $470.
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Common Forms of Mental Illness
Mental illness covers an extensive range of disorders and disabilities that are too numerous to list individually. So instead, the U.S. Social Security Administration has developed eleven (11) categories of adult mental disorders that nearly all mental illnesses fall under. Some of those disorders are listed below.
Disorders that affect a person’s cognitive function include memory loss and the inability to pay attention, plan, or make decisions. Symptoms can also include vision impairment, issues with language or speech, and insensitive social queues.
Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders
Persons with these disorders typically experience delusions, hallucinations, speech impediments, disorganized behavior, social withdrawal, mood distribution, and paranoia.
Depression and Bipolar Disorder
Depression is one of the most common forms of mental illness diagnosed in the United States today. Characteristic symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder include feelings of hopelessness, sadness, guilt, and suicide. In addition, those suffering from these illnesses may experience changes in body weight, insomnia or over-sleeping, dramatic changes in energy levels, and a reduction to control impulses.
Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Another growing form of mental illness, anxiety, and OCD, creates debilitating issues for many functioning adults. Common signs of anxiety and/or OCD include restless, excessive worrying, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, obsessive behavior, and excessive thoughts of fear.
Personality and Impulse-Control Disorders
Common personality disorders include paranoid, schizoid, dependent, obsessive-compulsion, and intermittent explosion. In addition, persons suffering from these disorders display skepticism, suspicion, social detachment, discomfort, avoidance, hypersensitivity to judgment, orderliness, perfectionism, and impulsive anger.
Trauma and Stress Disorders
These disorders are most often caused by a stressful or traumatic event or series of events. Symptoms often include depression, stressful memories or flashbacks, nightmares, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and irritability.
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Mental Incompetency and Mental Insanity
Under California law, a criminal offender may plead incompetence or insanity when facing criminal charges due to an underlying mental health disorder. The court always presumes a criminal offender can stand trial. Offenders have the burden to stand trial to show they are incompetent or insane.
When an offender is incompetent, they cannot understand the criminal charges against them. This means they cannot aid in their defense. Typical incompetent persons will be involuntarily confined to a mental health facility for treatment. To show insanity, the offender’s attorney must be able to show that the offender was unaware of their actions at the time they committed the offense or were aware of their actions but were unable to understand the severity of their actions or why they were criminal acts.
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Mental Health Diversion
Some states, including California, offer what is commonly referred to as Mental Health Diversion. For example, instead of being charged for an underlying criminal offense, California courts will offer eligible offenders the ability to enroll in a mental health program to divert those with mental illness away from the criminal justice system.
Once enrolled in the program, offenders waive their Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. Because specific programs can last up to two calendar years between enrollment and competition, many offenders would have their constitutional rights violated upon the program’s failure or voluntary dismissal from treatment. Furthermore, failing to adhere to a mental health diversion program renders an offender eligible to be recharged with a criminal offense.
Eligible offenders must first be charged with a felony or misdemeanor. Further, a California judge must find that:
- The offender has been diagnosed with a qualifying mental illness (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or PTSD).
- The offender’s disorder was the leading cause of their criminal behavior.
- A mental health expert has concluded the offender’s mental health disorder caused the offender’s behavior.
- The offender agrees to treatment through a mental health diversion program.
- The offender complies with the mental health diversion program’s requirements.
- After completing the mental health program, the offender no longer poses an unreasonable risk to society.
Cost of Diversion Programs
Division programs are generally accessible for all eligible criminal offenders. However, criminal offenders may pay out-of-pocket for additional care or facilities that meet the diversion statute’s requirements but are privately owned and operated.
Mental health diversion’s ultimate goal is to treat mental illness without penalizing offenders. Therefore, programs may offer inpatient or outpatient services, including housing, medication management, drug treatment, psychotherapy, and other forms of counseling.
Mental health diversion programs can last up to 24 months and must issue periodic progress reports to the court. Once completed, the offender will no longer be charged with the criminal offense, and their treatment records will be sealed—preventing discrimination when the offender applies for employment, licensure, or certification.
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Call a Mental Health Lawyer in Long Beach Today
If you have been charged with a crime but you have a mental illness, please reach out to the Simmrin Law Group today. A Long Beach mental health attorney is ready to step in and help formulate your defense strategy today. We are ready to help.