If you are considering using the Marchman Act, a Florida statute that allows concerned loved ones to file a petition for someone who is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse to undergo involuntary assessment and treatment, a person that you care about is probably in dire straits. And since September is Suicide Awareness Month, there’s no better time to look into the connection between substance abuse and suicide and how you can use the legal system to help someone who may be a danger to themselves.
The good news, insofar as there is any silver lining to be found in a situation this unpleasant for all involved, is that someone who has expressed their intentions to commit suicide or even attempted it has made the fact that they are a danger to themselves immediately obvious.
However, though substance abuse and other mental health issues often co-ocur, a suicidal threat or gesture would probably mean that the Baker Act, another Florida law that is meant to allow for the involuntary treatment of individuals who are experiencing mental health crises, may be more applicable to your loved one’s situation than would the Marchman Act.
Under the Baker Act, one can commit a person who:
- is refusing examination or can’t determine if they need an examination
- Shows a strong likelihood that they will harm themselves by neglecting or refusing to take care of themselves
- Shows a strong likelihood that they will cause harm to themselves or others
Though both acts allow someone to be held for up to 72 hours for an assessment to determine whether further treatment is needed, the Marchman Act instead applies to someone who:
- has lost the power of self-control over their substance abuse
- does not appreciate their own need for help and cannot make rational decisions regarding their care as a result of their substance abuse
- has become a danger to themselves or others.
However, the strong connection between suicide and substance abuse means that forcing your loved one into treatment under the Marchman Act may end up saving their life in the long run. Statistics show that suicide is six times more common in people suffering from a substance abuse disorder than it is in the general population, as well as that as many as twenty-five percent of alcoholics and drug addicts may eventually go on to commit suicide.
People who are suffering from addiction also often have underlying mental health conditions, conditions that can predispose them to suicidal ideation as well and that are almost certainly going untreated if you believe that their situation is severe enough to warrant the Marchman Act.
Someone who is self-medicating a mental health disorder with their drug of abuse may be particularly resistant to treatment, because they fear that the symptoms they have been suppressing with substances will return if they stop using.
However, if you are able to enroll your loved one in a treatment program, even if you have to do so against their will, it will likely be able to help them address their underlying issues as well as their substance abuse, thus laying the groundwork for them to achieve a lasting recovery.
Thinking about the connection between addiction and suicide also underscores ther urgency of convincing your loved one to seek help. Addiction can often be a progressive disease, so allowing someone you love to continue in their downward spiral of drug use may result in them becoming suicidal down the line as they become more desperate, more hopeless, and lose ever more resources and connections that could help them reestablish a healthy, sober life.
Both the Baker Act and the Marchman Act can be used to help you get your loved ones the help they need, and you can always reach out to a professional to help you determine which of these two acts is applicable to your situation and how you should proceed.
Because the Baker Act is easier to file, it would likely be more appropriate in an emergency situation, requiring only a mental health, medical or law enforcement professional to co-sign rather than the extensive petition process required to file a successful Marchman Act claim.
However, the Baker Act also comes with the downside of only ensuring a 72 hour psych hold as opposed to a longer period of treatment that could be required if someone who is detained under the Marchman Act is determined to be a danger to themselves due to their addiction in their initial evaluation.
In the meantime, if you are worried your loved one may be suicidal but don’t feel you yet have the evidence to file a successful Marchman Act or Baker Act claim, there are other steps you can take to keep your loved one safe.
Be alert to signs of an intentional overdose and to the presence of any potential lethal methods your loved one may use to end their life, and to expressions of hopelessness, out of character behavior, and someone who seems to be getting their affairs in order without another logical explanation for doing so.
Suicidal ideation or threats should always be taken seriously, and that you can always reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or your local emergency services for help dealing with an acute suicidal crisis in yourself or a loved one. And to learn more about the Marchman Act and how our skilled intervention counselors can help you procure treatment for someone whom you care about, call 833-497-3808.