Does fear of coercion keep people away from mental health treatment? Evidence from a survey of persons with schizophrenia and mental health professionals

Behav Sci Law. 2003;21(4):459-72. doi: 10.1002/bsl.539.


Mental health consumer advocates have long argued that involuntary treatment frightens persons with mental disorder and thus deters them from voluntarily seeking help. We surveyed 85 mental health professionals and 104 individuals with schizophrenia spectrum conditions to assess their experience with and perceptions of involuntary treatment and other treatment mandates. Of the clinicians, 78% reported that overall they thought legal pressures made their patients with schizophrenia more likely to stay in treatment. Regarding involuntary outpatient commitment, 81% of clinicians disagreed with the premise that mandated community treatment deters persons with schizophrenia from seeking voluntary treatment in the future. Of the consumer sample, 63% reported a lifetime history of involuntary hospitalization, while 36% reported fear of coerced treatment as a barrier to seeking help for a mental health problem-termed here "mandated treatment-related barriers to care." In bivariate analyses, reluctance to seek outpatient treatment associated with fear of coerced treatment (mandated treatment-related barriers to care) was significantly more likely in subjects with a lifetime history of involuntary hospitalization, criminal court mandates to seek treatment, and representative payeeship. However, experience with involuntary outpatient commitment was not associated with barriers to seeking treatment. Recent reminders or warnings about potential consequences of treatment nonadherence, recent hospitalization, and high levels of perceived coercion generally were also associated with mandated treatment-related barriers to care. In multivariable analyses, only involuntary hospitalization and recent warnings about treatment nonadherence were found to be significantly associated with these barriers. These results suggest that mandated treatment may serve as a barrier to treatment, but that ongoing informal pressures to adhere to treatment may also be important barriers to treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Coercion*
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Fear*
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Patient Compliance / psychology
  • Schizophrenia / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States
  • Workforce