When I was working at a psychiatric hotline, I received a call from a woman who wanted us to come out and commit her grandmother. She was also talking back to the television. In addition, she believed that the airplanes flying over her house were transmitting messages intended especially for her. I asked the caller if her mother had ever attempted or threatened to commit suicide, or if she had ever harmed or threatened to harm anyone else. I was assured that she had not. The caller also told me that she was certain that her mother had no intention of doing so in the future.
"How does she get her needs taken care of?" I asked. I was told that her husband does all the grocery shopping and cooks and cleans for her. She was perfectly able to dress herself and care for her own personal hygiene.
I told the caller that we could not even come out to interview her mother. In New Jersey, as well as in other states and many other nations, you do not merely have to be mentally ill in order to be committed, you also have to be dangerous because you are mentally ill. if you are not a danger to anyone else, and if your needs are being taken care of despite the fact that you are so crazy that you would be a danger to yourself were it not for the assistance of others, you are beyond the reach of the mental health system no matter how crazy you may happen to be.
If you are suicidal, on the other hand, you are automatically assumed to be crazy, and that alone will almost certainly get you a one way ticket to the mental hospital. For example, as we were discharging a retired social studies teacher from the hospital after she had received medical treatment for a broken hip, I was asked to screen her because she had casually remarked that she was going to go home and kill herself. When she admitted this during my psychiatric screening, I gently informed her that we would have to keep her in the hospital and admit her to the psychiatric ward. She angrily told me that she had the right to take her own life if she wanted to, and nobody had the right to stop her. Since she was a retired social studies teacher, I told her, "Even in a democracy, we can take away your civil rights in order to save your life." She drew herself up to her fall five feet in height and looked me straight in the eye and used terms which I never expected to hear from the lips of a social studies teacher!
When someone has expressed an intention to commit suicide or to harm someone else, a telephone call to your local police department or psychiatric hot line is usually all that is needed to alert the proper authorities, and they will determine whether the problem is a legal or a psychiatric one. Voluntary admission to a mental hospital is also possible under similar circumstances if the person who is having such feelings is willing to make the call. Nevertheless, no matter how crazy one happens to be, unless their behavior also poses a legal risk to themselves or others, there is often not much that you or anyone else can do. Your local laws may vary, and no set of statements fits every possible contingency. Therefore, this posting is not intended to serve as a substitute for legal or professional advice.