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Letter to the Editor

June 01, 2009

Maryland needs better mental-health law



To the editor:

Your May 26 article outlined the horrific killing of one man and the shooting of a woman by a Hagerstown man apparently suffering from severe mental illness. My thoughts and wishes extend to all those involved.

Tragedies of this nature tend to lead to more questions than are answered. We do know, however, that Maryland is one of only eight states that does not provide mandated outpatient treatment in the community for persons who are too ill to recognize they need treatment for their mental illness.

Often referred to as "assisted outpatient treatment (AOT)" or "outpatient commitment," AOT has been shown to significantly decrease victimization, homelessness, incarceration, arrests and hospitalizations.

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Studies consistently show that persons with severe mental illness, when receiving treatment, are no more prone to violence than others.

The issue, then, becomes one of having access to treatment for persons who are most severely impaired by untreated mental illness. Moreover, Maryland still uses a treatment standard based primarily on a person's likelihood of dangerous behavior instead of a "need for treatment" standard as in many other states.

For inpatient care, a person must be a danger to self/others, in need of treatment and unable or unwilling to be voluntarily admitted.

It is hard to say whether an improved law would have helped prevent this terrible tragedy, but one thing is certain, the mental health laws in Maryland are in dire need of revision.

Aileen Kroll
Treatment Advocacy Center
Arlington, Va.

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