The struggles of former child actress, Amanda Bynes, have been well-documented. She had numerous brushes with the law, including repeated drunk driving and other drug and alcohol-related charges, reported shoplifting attempts, and even more bizarre behavior — such as setting fire to her pants and dousing her dog with gasoline in the driveway of an elderly neighbor.
In 2013, her struggles culminated in guardianship/conservatorship proceedings in California, giving her parents the right to make decisions for her as her conservators. Amanda lived with her parents for the year, and seemed to be doing much better — enrolling in fashion school and avoiding both drugs and legal problems.
After the first year of conservatorship, her parents elected to let the proceedings terminate, restoring Amanda Bynes’s rights to make her own decisions. They reportedly felt that she had been misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, and her problems instead stemmed from her use of marijuana. Feeling the drug problems were behind her, Amanda’s parents decided to treat her as an adult and let her live her own life.
Amanda Bynes Hospitalized on Psychiatric Hold
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Amanda was promptly kicked out of fashion school, moved to New York, and picked up where she left off the year before. In the midst of erratic behavior, including more suspected shoplifting, Amanda took to Twitter to accuse her father of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Amanda later recanted, also on Twitter, stating that her father never did “those things” and she wrote them because of a microchip installed in her brain — that her father had ordered.
Amanda’s parents then worked with Sam Lufti — the infamous former manager of Britney Spears who was also involved in her conservatorship proceedings at one point. Amanda tweeted her gratitude to Sam Lufti for his help and even stated he was a like a brother to her. TMZ reported that Lufti worked with Amanda’s parents — who were desperate at that point to get Amanda the help she needed — to trick her into flying to Los Angeles. Amanda believed she was going to meet with a lawyer to sue her parents, but instead was brought to a mental health facility that looked like an office building. Amanda was then restrained and subjected to a 72-hour psychiatric hold, which was later extended to 14 days.
Her parents face the same dilemma they did last year — seek conservatorship of Amanda, allow the mental health system to force treatment on her through involuntary confinement that could last up to a year, or step aside and let Amanda continue her path of apparent self-destruction. It’s no easy choice. One carries risk of harm, but the other comes with the reality that Amanda could hate them for the rest of her life.
This is also a choice that is far from uncommon. A comprehensive study was published earlier this month by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This study surveyed the prevalence of mental disorders over a five-year period, and concluded that 22.5 percent of adults in our country have suffered a serious mental health disorder, which could include a substance abuse disorder such as alcoholism, in the prior year.
In other words, in any given year, almost one in four adults has suffered from one or more serious mental disorders such as major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcohol or illicit drug abuse, anxiety disorder, eating disorder, adjustment disorder, or similar mental health conditions. This means that almost every family in our country has at least one loved one — and likely more — facing serious issues for which intervention may at some point be necessary. Amanda Bynes’s parents are not alone.
When mental health or alcohol and drug problems interfere with a person’s health, safety or welfare, and the person can’t or won’t recognize the need for help, family members have to decide: Do we let our loved one continue down a self-destructive path, or do we force them to get help?
When the decision is made to forcibly intervene, there are typically two options, for the most part. One is to seek guardianship and/or conservatorship (different states use one or both names for what is essentially the same type of court proceeding). The other is the more aggressive, forced mental health treatment route. Amanda Bynes’s parents tried the conservatorship approach last year, thought it solved the problem, and apparently now realize that the more aggressive option is needed for her.
In this case, in California, the mental health proceedings fall under the LPS law and require a court to determine whether someone is a danger to herself, others, or is gravely disabled due to a mental disorder. When someone is found to meet the legal criteria, they can be subjected to involuntary confinement and treatment, that can last up to a year — and even beyond. Only the mental health facility can seek this type of aggressive, forced treatment in California.
Similar mental health proceedings are available in other states, although the specific procedures and requirements do vary. In some states, a prosecutor is assigned to pursue the forced treatment. Some states allow a family member to initiate the proceedings; in others (like California) it has to go through the doctors or other medical staff.
The alternative — a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding — does not directly involve forced confinement or treatment. Rather, these court proceedings appoint a decision-maker for the person in need of help. Usually a family member is appointed, like a parent or an adult child in the case of an older person. The appointed guardian or conservator continues to make some or all of the person’s medical, living, and/or financial decisions, until the court dissolves the guardianship/conservatorship. This approach has worked for Britney Spears, although she is still under conservatorship several years later.
Whether to go down either path — or none at all — is never easy. It’s a difficult balancing act to weigh a person’s right to make decisions as an adult, versus the need to protect someone whose decisions are no longer safe. The cost of pursuing legal protections usually will be met with great hostility — as with Amanda Bynes. Knowing when to cross that line is not easy; Amanda’s parents have clearly struggled with it, understandably.
If you face this type of dilemma with a loved one, it would be wise to consult with an attorney in your state experienced in guardianship, conservatorship, and/or mental health proceedings. Knowing your legal rights and options is critical when deciding when — and how — to intervene to save a loved one with a mental health or substance abuse disorder.