Advance directives are documents that give instructions to healthcare providers and others about your preferences should you become incapacitated. They’ve been used in general medicine for some time and can be legally binding documents that cover topics such as what kinds of life support you might want and who you would want to make medical decisions for you in the event you couldn’t make your own.
This approach has more recently taken root in psychiatry, and allows for people to prepare legal documents stating what their wishes are for healthcare should they have a severe mood episode and be hospitalized. These documents can cover everything from preferences for medications, hospitals, physicians, and electroconvulsive therapy to whom you would want to be contacted should you require involuntary hospitalization, and many other options. A psychiatric advance directive can also specify a person to be your appointed decision maker, or “Agent for Mental Health Care.”
At present it’s not known how psychiatric advance directives will hold up in a court of law should they not be followed, especially in emergency situations. Even so, psychiatric advance directives give clear guidance to providers about an individual’s preferences for treatment. They help the individual maintain a sense of dignity and control in situations, such as involuntary hospitalization, where personal freedoms can be drastically and precipitously curtailed.
Free forms that cover an array of psychiatric advance directives are available online and by mail from the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, 1101 15th Street, NW, Suite 1212, Washington, DC 20005. Phone: 202-467-5730; fax: 202-223-0409. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.Website: http://www.bazelon.org