DeSantis praises forced institutionalization: here’s why that’s dangerous

Outside of HCA Kendall Hospital | Mariantonia Mejia, PantherNOW

Mariantonia Mejia | Staff Writer

In the wake of the Oct. 25 mass shooting in a Maine bowling alley, Gov. Ron DeSantis made some interesting remarks regarding mental health laws in Florida. 

According to our governor, mental health-related gun control laws would not have been useful in Maine, and he would not support any laws aimed at controlling the purchasing of guns in the future. 

DeSantis is referring to Florida’s life-saving red-flag law, which allows law enforcement agencies to ask judges to ban people who are considered dangerous or mentally ill from purchasing firearms for up to 12 months. 

Along with this, DeSantis also stated that he believed that institutionalizing people against their will, much like Florida’s controversial Baker Act, would be much more effective in preventing mass violence. 

A law that began in the 1970s as a way to ensure the safety of our mentally ill population has been turned into an overused band-aid solution for a bullet hole of a problem. 

As someone who has not only experienced a Baker Act but also watched many psych ward roommates break into tears regarding their treatment before and during intake, I find it dangerous to laud forced institutionalization as a harm reduction method when it comes to mass shootings. 

What’s concerning is that the Baker Act is incredibly overused. In the past decade, there have been almost two million Baker Acts of children and adults in Florida, and the patients’ rights abuses have been plentiful. 

Children as young as five can be subjected to arrest and involuntary commitment in a psychiatric facility based on the smallest of infractions, and it is up to law enforcement, not the parents. 

The mere trauma that comes from being put in the back of a police vehicle is enough to last a lifetime – not to mention the potential police abuse someone could experience. The idea of subjecting anyone, much less a child, to that in the name of helping their mental health is abhorrent. 

Law enforcement should not be involved whatsoever in mental health crises, as they have little to no training in the matter, aside from an eight-hour course, and are likely to escalate the situation, rather than help it. 

This law can often be used as a temporary “solution” for parents who don’t want to deal with “problem kids”, like the boot camps and boarding schools they’d threaten to send us to, but in our own backyard. 

On the other end of the scale, Florida’s elderly population is also at risk of involuntary commitment because of age-based mental decline like Dementia or Alzheimer’s. 

Overall, the program paints a variety of people with extremely different needs with the exact same brush. 

It is also incredibly harsh and makes it difficult for those seeking outpatient mental health treatment without fear of being shipped off to the nearest psych ward. 

In 2020, when I was preparing to go away for my first year of college in Tallahassee (things have obviously changed since then), I had what I like to call a manic break. I was entirely unable to sleep for at least three straight days. 

The most logical thing to do, and what probably anyone outside of Florida would have done, was to go to the hospital and potentially get some sleeping medication.

However, every single person in my life, my therapist and psychiatrist included, warned me heavily not to go to the hospital, because it would result in me being Baker Acted, and missing my first week of classes. 

Though I was eventually able to reconfigure my sleep, the DIY way in which I was forced to do it was overall dangerous for my mental and physical health. It could have all been avoided if we, as Floridians, did not live with the constant fear of any emotional reaction sending us right to the ward. 

Despite this abundance of issues, the most glaring in regard to mass shooting prevention is the lack of follow-up when it comes to continued care. 

Once those 72 hours have passed and an individual is released, unless they have the funds to continue with a partial hospitalization program, there are minimal obstacles preventing them from committing dangerous acts. 

DeSantis should be calling for a stronger implementation of laws like the red flag law, which is a concrete way to keep mentally ill people from hurting themselves or others. 

Only focusing on mental health laws is not going to prevent mass shootings because this is not an issue of simply taking people off the streets. Gun control laws that focus on removing the very thing that causes shootings are much more effective because they address the root cause of the problem.

Instead, unsurprisingly, he sings the praises of a law that unnecessarily involves law enforcement in mental health situations and often does more harm than good.

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