Bill would help protect mentally ill

In the wake of tragic mass murders such as those of children in Newtown, Conn., questions about personal liberties have been discussed. Although Second Amendment freedom usually gets the spotlight, a more important issue is involved.

It is mental health – and how far society should go in safeguarding ourselves from the dangerously deranged.

But as Ohio legislators debate a bill that would give judges more power to order such people get treatment, an equally important consideration is being pointed out. It is getting the mentally ill help that may save them from themselves.

Like many other states, Ohio already has provisions allowing judges to commit the mentally ill to hospitals involuntarily. That authority is used sparingly, and that is appropriate.

But it means that some people who exhibit signs of being dangerous to themselves or others do not receive treatment at all. That would be remedied if a bill under consideration now is enacted.

Judges would be permitted to require people to obtain help through outpatient treatment, if the bill is approved.

Many judges and advocates for the mentally ill support the bill. In testimony before lawmakers, Betsy Johnson of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio put the situation in perspective: ”If somebody has a history of hurting themselves or threatening someone else, a family member could get them help before they require hospitalization or they’re picked up by police and taken to jail – or, in the worst-case scenario, end up dead.”


Legislators have concerns about the bill. One is paying for treatment ordered by judges. A $70 million increase in state funding for community mental health and addiction services should help in that regard.

The bottom line is safeguarding both the public and the mentally ill from the consequences of dangerous behavior. Legislators should approve the bill, then, to save lives.