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Definition of "Mental Disorder" under Washington's ITA

A finding of a person having a mental disorder is a threshold requirement to compel treatment against that person's will under Washington's Involuntary Treatment Act. The term "mental disorder" is defined as follows:

"Mental disorder" means any organic, mental, or emotional impairment which has substantial adverse effects on a person's cognitive or volitional functions.
RCW 71.05.020(24)

The basic meanings of two important terms in this definition are:

  • Cognitive functions. This is how well the person thinks.  Are they able to tell you what the date is?  Can they find their way home?  Do they suffer from delusions, or do they have a good grasp of what everyone else calls reality?
  • Volitional functions.  This deals with how much control a person has over their will. Do they take action knowingly, with a reasonable purpose?  Or, do they engage in behaviors that seem involuntary, or inexplicable, even to them?

Note that the ITA's definition of a mental disorder is extremely broad. It can include serious psychiatric diseases like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, or it can be a physical condition like a traumatic brain injury. Depression, personality disorders, dementia, and hyper-religiosity also fall under this definition. In short, the statutory definition of mental disorder includes pretty much any impairment that has a significant negative effect on the way a person thinks or acts.

Walla Walla attorney Jeff Burkhart is an experienced civil commitment litigator, and having him on your side will make a big difference. If you, or a family member, has an issue with a mental disorder that may lead to a civil commitment proceeding, contact Jeff Burkhart.



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