Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Important message in "Michael Clayton": location matters

It wasn’t the climax of the movie. It wasn’t even a major part of the plot. But, for those struggling to get treatment for a loved-one, a short portion of the new George Clooney movie – Michael Clayton- reveals something they know all too well - location can make all the difference in the world when trying to get treatment for someone with a severe mental illness.

In the movie, Arthur, a powerful, smart, well-respected attorney with bipolar disorder has a psychotic break and strips naked in a courtroom in Milwaukee, claiming he’s Shiva the god of death. Arthur refuses to take his medication, saying life is clearer than it’s ever been. He’s even been through a re-birth in which he was covered in placenta while he was walking down the street.

Later in New York, in a scene no longer than two minutes, Michael Clayton is trying to convince Arthur to take his medication and seek treatment for his bipolar disorder. Arthur responds by saying, “to involuntarily commit me, I have to be a danger to myself or someone else. If you wanted to commit me, you should have left me in Wisconsin.”

And he’s absolutely right.

As Arthur alluded to in the movie, in Wisconsin he probably could have gotten involuntary treatment for stripping naked in a courtroom and running around outside in a snowstorm wearing only socks. Wisconsin probably would have sensibly permitted a court to place someone as sick as Arthur in either inpatient or outpatient care. Wisconsin’s “Fifth Standard” essentially permits such treatment interventions for those who can’t make informed treatment decisions, need care or treatment, and will suffer severe mental, emotional or physical harm resulting in either the inability to function in community or a loss of cognitive or volitional control. Arthur’s condition and actions would have likely met those criteria.

Meanwhile in New York, there was nothing Michael Clayton could do to get treatment for his friend. In New York Arthur had to be an immediate physical danger to himself or others in order to be placed in inpatient treatment.

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