Mental health laws in the United States have undergone significant evolution. Currently, individuals with mental disorders have constitutional rights that must be protected. Initially, states set aside the mentally ill in mental institutions for years. In some cases, the locked individuals did not even receive any psychological treatment. As a result, individuals with mental illnesses embarked on a quest to challenge the oppressive medical policies enforced by various states. One of the milestone rulings that liberated the mentally ill individuals from the oppressive state policies is the United States Supreme Court ruling in O’Connor v. Donaldson in 1975. Forty-three years later, this landmark ruling continues to shape the practice of mental care and forensic psychology by insisting on the importance of protecting the constitutional rights of the mentally ill.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in O’Connor v. Donaldson affirmed that individuals with mental disorders also have constitutional rights, such as the right to liberty that must be respected and protected. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that “a state cannot constitutionally confine without more a non-dangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom with independently or with the help of willing and responsible relatives and friends” (Goldstein, 2006). In this respect, the court insisted that mental illness does not automatically make individuals dangerous to themselves or others. According to Goldstein (2006), this ruling confirmed that the civil commitment process must answer to the Constitution. As such, the mental condition of a person should not be used to deprive them of their constitutional rights.
Therefore, this ruling has played a significant role in the design and implementation of mental care laws. Specifically, mental care laws must ensure that they safeguard the constitutional rights of the mentally ill. This ruling has enabled the mental healthcare sector to enhance its service delivery by offering patient-centered care. According to Slate (2016), the O’Connor v. Donaldson ruling ensures that people with mental illnesses receive appropriate care. This ruling allowed mental illness to be viewed in the same light as any other disorder. For instance, in the modern society, mental illness treatment centers are equipped with professionals who ensure that patients receive appropriate medication. Besides, these facilities safeguard the fundamental constitutional rights of the patients, such as the right to liberty. Consequently, the healthcare sector has focused on increasing the number of community-based mental healthcare centers to ensure that they do not alienate individuals with mental disorders from the society. This move aims at protecting the patients’ right to liberty.
Moreover, this ruling continues to define the field of forensic psychology significantly. The verdict has enabled forensic psychologists to assist states and other institutions to realign their operations when handling the mentally ill. Besides, these experts have capitalized on this ruling to advocate for the rights of the people with mental disorders, particularity in criminal cases. At present, forensic psychologists are involved substantially in researching the interaction between law and mental illness. As such, the Supreme Court’s ruling in O’Connor v. Donaldson and other cases offer forensic psychologists the chance to evaluate how improved protection of the rights of the persons with mental disorders affects their compliance with the law. Importantly, this ruling empowers forensic psychologists’ commitment to protecting the rights of mentally ill persons.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in O’Connor v. Donaldson liberated individuals with mental disorders from oppressive and discriminative healthcare policies. As a result of this ruling, individuals with mental ailments continue to receive quality medication from health institutions. Besides, their constitutional rights have been protected in all areas. In the legal system, this ruling ensures that the offenders are treated fairly and justly.