What Is a Mental Health Care Directive?
A Mental Health Care Directive is a document that describes your wishes for care and treatment if you have a psychiatric emergency. It takes effect only during times when you are unable to communicate or make your own decisions. A Mental Health Care Directive is sometimes called an Advance Mental Health Care Directive or a Psychiatric Advance Directive.
Besides stating your treatment preferences, a mental health care directive usually names a trusted person to speak on your behalf. This person, often called your agent, works with mental health care providers to ensure you get the kind of care you want.
How Mental Health Care Directives Differ from Standard Advance Directives
A typical Advance Health Care Directive or Living Will gives instructions about end-of-life health care. But a Mental Health Care Directive may be used during periods of serious mental illness at any stage of your life. It focuses on treatment concerns that arise during psychiatric crises, such as hospitalization, medications, doctors, and therapists.
Also, while an ordinary Health Care Power of Attorney gives an agent power to make health care decisions when you are unable to do so yourself, many of these documents forbid agents from authorizing certain types of psychiatric treatment. With a Mental Health Care Directive, you let your agent arrange any treatment you might need, taking into account the preferences you write down in the document.
Does Massachusetts Offer a Mental Health Care Directive?
You can make a Mental Health Care Directive in any state. In about half the states, you can obtain and complete a specially designed form to describe your wishes for mental health treatment. In other states, you must use a standard advance directive form and modify it to include instructions about mental health treatment.
You can find detailed information for Massachusetts by visiting the website of the National Resource Center on Psychiatric Advance Directives (NRC-PAD).
You may want to watch this 15-minute webinar from NRC-PAD. It does a good job of explaining the issues you can cover in a Mental Health Care Directive. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is another good source of information.
If you want help completing a Mental Health Care Directive, talk with a trusted doctor or therapist, or consult a qualified lawyer. Many clinicians are still unfamiliar with Mental Health Care Directives. If a care provider wants to help but needs to learn more, refer them to the NRC-PAD for information.