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The importance of choice in recovery from mental illness

October 31, 2014:  He decided he might stop taking his meds. Did your breath catch a little when you read that? Popular misconceptions about people with mental illness often leave people scared when they hear that someone has decided to stop taking a medication. But what people don’t often realize is that a person’s right to exercise self-determination and choice are key in their recovery from mental illness. And that includes the choice of whether or not to take medications that have significant side effects and may not have long-term effectiveness anyway. In an amicus brief filed in Harrison-Solomon v. State of Maryland on October 31, the Public Justice Center, Maryland Disability Law Center, On Our Own of Maryland, Inc., and the Mental Health Association of Maryland made just this point.

Mr. Harrison-Solomon had been conditionally released after being found not criminally responsible in two cases, but was required to follow a number of restrictive conditions for five years. Days before the order was set to expire, the State moved to continue the conditional release because Mr. Harrison-Solomon said he might stop taking his medications once not required to do so. More than a month after the order expired, the court granted the State’s application without a hearing. The amicus brief argued that unnecessarily continuing an individual on conditional release could actually be counterproductive to that person’s recovery from mental illness, not to mention endangering people’s rights to due process. The brief cited research indicating that long-term use of antipsychotic medications is not beneficial for a significant percentage of individuals. Additional research included in the brief showed that predictions of future violence based on a clinician’s judgment alone are no more reliable than chance, and thus, unnecessarily continuing a conditional release order does not protect the public safety. We hope that this brief will encourage the Court of Appeals to consider people’s rights to due process and choice in recovery from mental illness.

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