Experiences of involuntary psychiatric admission decision-making: a systematic review and meta-synthesis of the perspectives of service users, informal carers, and professionals.

Elsevier BV
Publication Type:
Journal Article
International journal of law and psychiatry, 2020, 73, pp. 101645
Issue Date:
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In involuntary psychiatric admission, used globally, professionals or caretakers decide upon hospitalization regardless of what the person with psychosocial disabilities decides. This raises clinical, ethical, legal, and human rights concerns, and it goes against Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). CRPD mandates that member states respect the autonomy of people with disabilities. Through Article 12, it recognizes full enjoyment of legal capacity for persons with disabilities. Implementation of Article 12 is challenging in every country, and exploring all the stakeholders' experiences at admission decision-making will help us to understand the challenges that the current psychiatry system poses for service users to exercise their autonomy and identify the areas where service users need support to have their rights, will, and preferences respected.


To describe the experiences of service users, informal carers, and professionals in involuntary psychiatric admission decision-making and throughout the subsequent involuntary admission. We explored the support that the service users need to have their rights, will, and preferences respected.


A search of twelve databases in medicine, sociology, and law in Danish, English, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish was conducted in 2017 and 2018, limited to the past 10 years, using terms such as "involuntary," "admission," "mental illness," and "experience". The search identified 682 articles. Four researchers independently reviewed the articles to find those that completed original qualitative or mixed method studies exploring experiences of involuntary psychiatric admission among adults. We added seven publications from the articles' references, contacted experts in the field (no publications were added), and excluded two articles that were in German. Three researchers analyzed the articles' results using Thematic Analysis (PROSPERO registration number CRD42019072874).


Overall, 37 articles were included from 11 countries; they involved 731 service users, 100 informal carers, and 291 mental health professionals. We identified a lack of communication and a power imbalance among the stakeholders, which was exacerbated by the professionals' attitudes. At admission decision-making, the service users wanted to be heard and wanted to understand the situation. The families felt responsibility for the service users, they were careful not to ruin relationships, and they struggled to obtain support from the mental health system. Professionals believed that threats or harming others should lead to admission regardless of what the service users or their families felt. Professionals sometimes felt that it was not necessary to explain the information to the service users because they would not understand. Professionals were concerned and frustrated with difficulties in coordinating among themselves. During admission, service users struggled with the ward environment and relationship with staff; they most objected to coercion, such as forced medication. Families were frustrated that they were not involved in the treatment planning, especially as the service users moved toward discharge. The professionals often rationalized that coercion was necessary, and they believed that they knew what was best for the service users.


A lack of communication and a power imbalance among the stakeholders hindered respect for the service users' rights, will, and preferences. This was exacerbated by professionals rationalizing coercion and assuming that service users were incapable of understanding information. Services that encourage communication and overcome power imbalances (e.g. Crisis Plans, Family Group Conferencing) combined with stronger community mental health support will respect service users' rights, will, and preferences and avoid substituted decision-making on issues such as involuntary admission and forced medication.
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