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My Adult Child is Suicidal. What Legal Options Do I Have?

Carolyn Woodruff

Dear Carolyn,

I am a concerned mother of a 19-year-old boy, who has a drug issue and is prone to suicidal threats. He did try to kill himself once when he was age sixteen, and he was placed in the behavioral health section of a local hospital for treatment. He has recently moved out of my home and into the home of some of his friends. What kind of legal options do I have?

– Need to Know

Dear Need to Know,

You have a difficult situation and given that your son is legally an adult at 19 gives you very few legal options. There is one legal option of involuntary commitment, which I will discuss in paragraph two. But, first practical advice. You have to practice tough love and not enable the boy’s drug habit. You cannot “helicopter” in to save him at every turn.  You obviously should not provide resources for purchasing drugs. Secure any weapons and ammunition you have so that he doesn’t have access. Sometimes, you simply have to step back and pray.

The only real legal option is the option of involuntary commitment if he is a danger to himself or others. Persons who are suicidal can also be homicidal, so please keep that in mind. If you can keep track of your son without enabling him, you may be able to keep tabs on his mental health. Under the laws of North Carolina, you can go to the magistrate’s office and file for involuntary commitment swearing to facts that your son is a danger to himself or others. The police will then pick up your son and take him to a mental health facility for evaluation. If the mental health professional agrees that he is a danger to himself or others, the professional will have your son hospitalized for mental health treatment. He will be entitled to a hearing within ten days to determine whether further hospitalization is needed, and the court will appoint a lawyer for him.

Mental health and violence have become such a huge societal problem, so your facts can never be taken lightly. Be vigilant.

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Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your unique case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn.”


This blog is an excerpt from Ask Carolyn 2, now available on kindle.