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ITA Investigations: Can Standardized Assessment Instruments Assist in Decision Making?

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Mason Burley - January 2011

In Washington State, specialized investigators, called Designated Mental Health Professionals (DMHPs), are responsible for determining if individuals can be committed for 72 hours under the state’s Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA). The criteria established under the ITA statute (RCW 71.05) allow individuals to be involuntary detained to a psychiatric facility if, as a result of a mental disorder, the individual is gravely disabled or presents a substantial risk of serious harm to him or herself or others.

A DMHP relies on both professional judgment and historical case records to determine the extent to which an individual may pose a risk. While protocols have been adopted for ITA investigations, at present, DMHPs do not use a standardized risk assessment instrument to determine the level of danger an individual may pose.

This report reviews both mental health and risk assessment instruments that potentially could be utilized in an ITA investigation. None of the risk instruments discussed here, however, have been validated for use within the general population. While we could not identify suitable instruments for ITA investigations within the research literature, other measures are discussed which may assist a DMHP in the investigation process. These options include expanded access to criminal records and centralized access to previous mental health investigation and commitment data.

Report ID: 11-01-3402

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