Past, Present, and Future of Coercive Mental Health

David Cohen, MSW, Ph.D.

All cycles of reform in mental health have been said to involve changes in favored treatments and favored places to administer those treatments, as both treatments and places had failed. My reading of past and current reforms highlights additional propagandizing: non-compliant patients are sicker than we think and require just the treatments they refuse, and more coercion will help healers, patients, and treatments coalesce into the next ideal therapeutic place. We seem to be entering a new cycle of reforms fueled by homelessness, failed drug wars and drug treatments, and the absence of asylums for adult dependents. Knowing that all policies entail benefits and harms, those who value human dignity and respect human rights are called upon to clarify and defend their values, examine the facts, gauge public attitudes, and craft incremental policies.