Beyond Britney: The Mental Health Movement in Law

The Mental Health Movement in Law

Mental Health is no longer taboo. In fact, the importance of mental health awareness and treatment options are becoming mainstream. More and more family members and friends are reaching out to see how they can help a struggling friend. And the laws are adapting to promote mental health treatment.

In years past, the solution for an individual with mental health struggles would be a full conservatorship. We saw this firsthand with Britney Spears. We also witnessed the complete travesty it turned out to become; some would say reaching the point of abuse. On the flip side, in other cases, concerned parents tried to obtain conservatorship of a child suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, only to be told there was nothing the court could do.

A desperate mother anguished, “I was kicked out of the courtroom for begging the [court] to give me something so that I could bring my beautiful 18-year-old daughter in from the streets, back into my house, wash her hair, give her clean dry clothes, and take her to her doctor.” Her daughter was undiagnosed but had a history of manic and depressive behavior. “What does the [court] expect me to do… sit by and watch my baby struggle, and suffer, and endure the pain…”

Stories such as this is not uncommon – opposite extremes that do not satisfactorily address mental health or provide solutions and help for individuals struggling with mental health and their families.

Change needed change. Legislators listened. New laws were proposed. And at the end of 2022 Governor Newsom signed AB 1663 that changes conservatorships in mental health. These new laws require judges to document all available alternatives before granting a conservatorship. The goal of this bill is to prevent a Britney do-over. Newsom stated that this bill intends to provide individuals with disabilities the needed treatment while still maintaining control over their lives to the greatest extent possible.

Similarly, new laws were effectuated that allow family members or friends to apply for an LPS conservatorship. LPS conservatorships are used specifically to oversee comprehensive medical treatment for adults that suffer from serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and chronic alcoholism. Now for the first time, the LPS conservator can be someone close to the struggling individual instead of the State.

These two seemingly simple changes to the law with profound impact. Family and friends can intervene legally, offer help, and get services for serious mental illness. Individuals with disabilities now can maintain a sense of self, personal identity, and freedom.

If you or someone you know is suffering from serious mental illness or is the victim of conservatorship abuse, get help! Resources are available in every county of California. Mental health is a medical condition, not a social stigma.

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