In September, Gov Rod Blagojevich (D, Ill) signed Senate Bill 234 into law, allowing early state intervention for persons with severe mental illnesses. Before this enactment, the state required that persons must be a danger to themselves or others before court-ordered treatment could take place. The law will go into effect next June.
The revised law allows court-ordered treatment of a person who "because of the nature of his or her illness, is unable to understand his or her need for treatment and who, if not treated, is at risk of suffering or continuing to suffer mental deterioration or emotional deterioration, or both, to the point that the person is at risk of engaging in dangerous conduct."
The bill defines "dangerous conduct" as "threatening behavior or conduct that places another individual in reasonable expectation of being harmed, or a person's inability to provide, without the assistance of family or outside help, for his or her basic physical needs so as to guard himself or herself from serious harm."
According to a press release from the Treatment Advocacy Center, supporters of the bill feel that the new law will be a breakthrough for Illinois mental health treatment. Lora Thomas, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said, "The new law has one goal. It offers the hope of getting a loved one with mental illness into treatment. Illinois can no longer retain the right for people to remain dangerously ill."
However, the bill was not passed without contention. Opponents believed that because the bill was introduced in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, this might have led to most of its support. A story from Medill Reports: Chicago, a Web site from Northwestern University, reported that many mental health professionals in Illinois were actually against the passage of this law because it could force patients into involuntary treatment, which would weigh heavily on the state's already strained resources. Instead, they argued for the allocation of funds for housing, therapy, and employment of persons with mental illness.