Involuntary Psychiatric Detentions on Rise

Involuntary psychiatric detentions are on the rise, according to new research out of the University of California, Los Angeles. 

The study was published online Tuesday in the journal Psychiatric Services. It examines the rate at which people are held against their will for behavioral health examinations.

While rules for these involuntary psychiatric detentions vary by state, most allow authorized facilities to hold people who may pose a danger to themselves or others for behavioral health reasons.


For the study, researchers at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs reviewed involuntary mental health detention data from 2011 to 2018. They searched health and court websites for states nationwide to pull the numbers; however, usable data was only available for 25 states. 

There, researchers found that instances of forced detention for mental health reasons outpaced population growth 3 to 1. In 22 states, the average yearly detention rate increased by 13% between 2012 to 2016. Meanwhile, the average population there grew only 4% during that period.

The findings are complicated by the nationwide dearth of data related to forced mental health evaluations, as well as inconsistencies in data reporting.


“This is the most controversial intervention in mental health — you’re deprived of liberty, can be traumatized and then stigmatized — yet no one could tell how often it happens in the United States,” David Cohen, lead researcher and social welfare professor at the Luskin School, told UCLA. “We saw the lack of data as a social justice issue, as an accountability issue.”

Another unknown, researchers said, is the objective outcomes associated with psychiatric detentions. However, researchers noted that measuring outcomes was not their objective with the study. More research is needed in that area, as well as it relates to involuntary psychiatric holds overall, researchers said.  

“Greater transparency in data would not only lead to a better understanding of the epidemiology of psychiatric detentions in the U.S., but could help determine to what extent commitment is a last resort,” Gi Lee, co-lead and doctoral student at the Luskin School, told UCLA.