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ql Laws on Suicide Attempts

The Current State Of Suicide Attempt Laws In The US


According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. On average, there are more than 115 suicide-related deaths per day. There were nearly 48,000 suicides in 2021 alone, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. That’s why it’s important to understand the current state of suicide attempt laws across the country today. The view that one can never truly know what another is going through unless you have experienced it yourself is an idea that has been widely accepted by those who care about battling mental illness and suicide rates. It is a concept that has the potential to significantly reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness if we all embrace it. Mental illness is not something that can be seen, which is why many of those who have never experienced it may feel as though there is no way to truly understand it. However, what if there is a way for those without mental illness to try to understand it? What if there is something that we can all try to do to help us understand what it is like to live with mental illness? However, as with most things in life that seem so simple, there are almost as many different perspectives on suicide attempt laws as there are states. From restrictive laws that make it difficult for people to receive help outside of a psychiatric facility to entirely permissive statutes that allow private establishments like hospitals or hotels to refuse individuals based on their fear, they may harm themselves.


Understanding the Current State of Suicide Law in the US

Suicide attempt laws are designed to help people who are at risk of self-harm but who are not yet at the point where they are ready to receive long-term psychiatric care. Medical professionals are trained in how to help these individuals but not every medical professional has the necessary training to know how best to help a person who is in a suicidal state. Attempt laws allow nonmedical professionals to assist in the process of getting someone help without endangering the professional's liability. Depending on the state, the person who is in danger may be held in a hospital for 72 hours so that they can be stabilized and treated by mental health professionals. At this point, a judge will decide whether to release the person or keep them in the hospital for further treatment. Suicide attempt laws also allow the individual to be treated at home under the supervision of a licensed professional if appropriate.


How is Committing a Suicide Attempt Currently Defined?

Suicide attempt laws allow people who are in danger of harming themselves to receive help when they might not otherwise seek out or accept it. On the surface, it would seem that a clear-cut definition of a suicide attempt would be easy to understand. However, it varies widely across the country and even in individual states. Most statutes define a suicide attempt as a self-destructive act that could lead to death. Some states also include language that specifies an individual must be at risk of serious bodily harm to qualify. At the same time, states vary widely in how they define self-destructive behavior. Some states specify that the act must result in some form of injuries, such as broken bones or cuts requiring stitches. Other states are far broader and consider any kind of self-destructive behavior to be a suicide attempt including things like ingesting large amounts of pills, burning oneself, or driving recklessly.


3 Types of Prohibited Behaviors in Suicide Attempt Laws

  • Treatment refusal: This is when a person refuses to accept help when it is offered. It is also called noncompliance with treatment. This is one of the most common types of prohibited behaviors in suicide attempt laws. The idea is that people who are suicidal can be extremely reluctant to seek treatment. They may be in denial that they are in danger, or they may feel shame or stigma over the fact that they are struggling with mental illness.
  • Physical harm: This is when the person attempts to harm others, or themselves through physical self-destructive behavior (such-as self-injury or drug use).
  • Suicidal behavior: This is when the person makes a direct and unambiguous threat to kill themselves.


Which States Have Strict Commitment Laws?

Strict suicide attempt laws are when a person who is identified as being at imminent risk for self-harm is committed to a psychiatric facility against their will and without the option of treatment at home. Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington D.C. are the only states with strict suicide attempt laws. This means that a person can be involuntarily committed even if they do not want help.


Which States Have Permissive Commitment Laws?

Permissive suicide attempt laws are the opposite of strict suicide attempt laws. In these states, a person who is identified as being at imminent risk for self-harm can be treated at home rather than in a psychiatric facility. Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, Texas, and Utah. These states have permissive commitment laws. This means that a person can only be involuntarily committed if they pose a danger to someone else.


Which States Have No Commitment Statutes at All?

There are a handful of states that have no suicide attempt laws at all. These states don’t have any statutes governing how a mental health crisis should be handled. - Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming. These states have no commitment statutes at all. This means that there are no rules governing how a mental health crisis is handled, and individuals can only be held against their will if they pose a danger to others.



Suicide attempt laws are put into place to help individuals who are in the middle of a mental health crisis. Even though these laws have good intentions, they can be discriminatory against people with mental health conditions. Many of these laws are based on stereotypes that are not always true. For example, some people believe that people who attempt suicide must not want to die because they did not follow through with the act. However, this is not true, as many people who attempt suicide do so because they feel they have no other way out of their current situation and do want to die. During a crisis, individuals may not be thinking clearly or rationally. They may not understand their actions or even be aware of what they are doing. During a mental health crisis, individuals may be at risk for self-harm or harming others. These laws were created to keep individuals who are at risk for self-harm or harming others safe. They can be a scary and dangerous time for both the person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts and the people who love them. It’s important to know the rules and regulations of your state when it comes to suicide attempt laws. If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis and needs help, it’s vital to know where to go and how to get it.

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