What are My Rights?
I remember one of the hardest things about having an adult child with a mental illness is the feeling of hopelessness. When their condition is not under control, it can be frustrating and upsetting. It’s during times like those that you wonder about your legal rights as the parent of a mentally ill adult child. What rights do I have, you may wonder.
Your child may decide not to take their medication, but they are of age and can legally make their own decisions. But their own decisions are harming them. In today’s world, the issues surrounding the legal rights of parents with a mentally ill child is a double-edged sword.
Your child is of a legal age to make their own decisions, but they may not be capable. You have no legal right to force another adult to take medication they don’t want. Laws are in place to ensure that people’s rights are protected. These laws are in place to protect everyone, including the legal rights of the mentally ill. Imagine if a parent could decide their child wasn’t making good decisions and the parent could legally force them to do something else. Imagine if some parents used this to strip another adult – their child – of their basic human rights.
In that respect, the law protects your child and all other people – including yourself – from being taken advantage of. This is a good thing and it makes sense. Until you have a mentally ill adult child.
Watching my son self-destruct was one of the hardest and most frustrating things I have ever had to do. I knew if I could just make him do what I wanted, he would be happier and healthier. But he was an adult. I had no legal rights over him. I tried reasoning with him, cajoling, bribing, yelling and going silent. Nothing worked.
When I talked to other parents, we all agreed it was ridiculous that we as parents had no legal say over our own children. But we also acknowledged that there was no easy answer that would protect everyone.
But before we get too far, I want to make it clear that this article is in no way intended to be legal advice. It is commentary on the topic and I strongly urge you to consult with a lawyer for legal advice regarding your rights and your mentally ill child.
Some areas have laws around involuntary mental health treatment for people who may be at risk of harming themselves. As a rule, there are very strict procedures, including a hearing, that are in place to make sure this option is not abused. Check with a lawyer or legal aid to see if this is a possibility. Another place to check is a local mental health association or advocacy group.
Medical power of attorney is another option, if your adult child agrees. This option provides you with the legal right to make decisions for your mentally ill child. Pursuing this is best done when your child’s condition is under control and they are able to make important decisions. A medical power of attorney gives you the right to make medical decisions on behalf of your child. If it is deemed that your child is unable to make decisions, you would step in. The definition of what “unable” means can be tricky, so make sure you consult with a lawyer.
None of the above options are easy and no parent wants to use them. In fact, we would do almost anything to not have to even consider them.
Advice About the Legalities
The best advice I can give another parent is to make sure you consult with a lawyer and look into your options BEFORE your child is in a position of needing help. Don’t wait until their condition is out of hand before scrambling to find out what you can do. Knowing what you can do and what the limitations are, will help you in the midst of a crisis. I know parents who’ve been shocked to discover their hands are legally tied when it comes to helping their child.
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