Bill Could Force Meds on People with Mental Health Issues

Medicine pill and capsules in handMass shootings are quickly becoming a new norm; over 900 people have died in mass shootings in the U.S. since 2006. And while many people agree that the mental health system needs work, some “solutions” could undermine the rights of people with mental health issues. U.S. Representative Tim Murphy, a psychologist, proposed a bill in 2013 called the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. In response to several recent shootings, Murphy has begun advocating for the benefits of his bill, but a provision in the legislation could force some people with mental health concerns to take psychotropic medication.

About the Bill

The legislation is more than 100 pages, and offers numerous proposals for addressing mental health issues. One proposal is the use of a treatment protocol called assisted outpatient treatment (AOT). This treatment approach, already legal under some circumstances in 45 states, permits courts to order a person with a history of “medication noncompliance” to take psychiatric medications. Murphy’s legislation would greatly expand the power of courts to force medication on people with mental health issues.

Why Forced Medication Is a Problem

Forced treatment is controversial even when violence and severe mental health issues are factors, but forcing someone to take medication simply because of a history of medication noncompliance is even more troubling to many mental health professionals. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Program, two government administrations dedicated to mental health care, both oppose forced treatment.

The trouble with forced treatment doesn’t end there, though. Sometimes those with psychiatric issues stop taking medication for good reason. Particularly among people with severe symptoms, medication can cause serious—and sometimes even life-threatening—side effects.

Not all medications work for all people, which means a person forced to take medication could be forced to undergo serious side effects even though the medication doesn’t improve mental health symptoms. Therapy can be just as effective as medication, and therapy can actually be more effective than medication at treating some mental health issues. By forcing people with mental health issues to take medication, courts privilege one treatment over another.

Perhaps most importantly, forced treatment undermines the autonomy of people with mental health conditions. Courts have repeatedly ruled that simply having a mental health condition does not remove a person’s fundamental rights. Forced treatment, however, destroys the hallowed concept of informed consent. It could also deter people who need help from seeking it.

Is It Legal?

Whether or not Murphy’s bill is legal is an issue for legal scholars. However, legislation can’t generally be ruled illegal until someone brings a lawsuit alleging that a law is unconstitutional. This means that, if Murphy’s bill becomes law, the issue could ultimately be heard by the Supreme Court. Even if the Court rules that the legislation is unconstitutional, it could affect thousands of people before being struck down.


  1. Assisted outpatient treatment laws. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Grossman, D. (2014, June 4). Scary new congressional bill would force medication on some mentally ill people. Retrieved from
  3. Mass shootings toll exceeds 900 in past seven years. (2013, December 02). Retrieved from
  4. Nordal, K. C. (2010, November). Where has all the psychotherapy gone? Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • dorothy

    June 25th, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    There are so many problems surrounding this issue that it is hard to know where to begin.

    If I am of pretty much sound mind and have made the decision not to take medication, then that should be my decision. My life, my choice, right?

    I understand that we eventually get into talking about whether we are a danger to others and I can see how we think that forced meds can be the answer but that isn’t always the case either.

    Someone has to really want improvement in their life for this to make any huge difference, so just taking the medication and going through the motions will not be the easy answer that this assumes that it will be.

  • Benji

    June 25th, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    Medication is not the answer to the growing numbers of violence committed with guns. Gun control is the answer to that problem. This is like trying to fix a flat tire with ketchup, not the answer.

  • Xavier

    June 26th, 2014 at 4:21 AM

    It seems to me that this is a guy who is taking his position in Congress and pushing something through that is going to play on the heartstrings of constituents and not necessarily the firm intelligence that is needed to pass a bil like this.
    This is huge, okay, and should not be taken lightly. I know that there are too many innocent people losing their lives, but they are not all at the hands of those who are mentally ill. There are some perfectly sane people committing these types of crimes too.
    I see this as something that has to be done on an individual basis and not by some sweeping mandate that is passed through Congress with very little thought. I really hope that our other leaders will consider this before attempting to make this the law of the land.

  • Asheton

    June 26th, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    seriously are there people who think that this is remotely even a good idea?

  • Kevin jp

    June 30th, 2014 at 9:08 AM

    I take very small dosages of two medications. One is for psychosis and one is for depression. 150% change for the better. I have never been violent on these meds as violence is a result of a deeper problem known as soul sickness. Two books that explore both sides of the issue: change your brain, change your life and peter breggin: talking back to prozac. Each makes a compelling case for their particular viewpoint

  • Kevin jp

    June 30th, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    Another book recommendation that looks at human problems from a philosophical rather than medical perspective is Lou Marinoff’s Plato, Not Prozac

  • GodBlessPharma

    September 27th, 2014 at 10:37 PM

    All of you who are against people having to take mood stabilizers and other stabilizing medications are making the problem worse. I personally have seen and known the Before and After situations, such as people with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. The Anti Pharma/Anti Psychiatric/ people try to claim that the mentally ill should only use herbs which do not work, and, that everyone else has to deal with their problems. I advocate compassion and understanding towards those mentally ill people who understand and accept their need to receive treatment ,and involuntary medication administration to those who refuse to take their medications.

  • godbanpharma

    March 15th, 2017 at 6:40 PM

    god bless pharma you are an extremely ignorant and uninformed person.
    the psychiatry industry has no case because there are no tests for mental illnesses whatsoever,its just a case of assumption that there are chemical imbalances and its all about making money for pharma. the side effects are extremely deadly like blood clots that can lead to stroke,parkinsons disease,
    a direct cause for diabetes and cholestrol. please stop being a moron and educate yourself about how unscientific psychiatry really is

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