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Britney Spears has been in the news lately about her mental health conservatorship. What is that?
Back in 2008 pop diva Britney Spears suffered a mental health breakdown. Her struggle was widely covered on the news, including shaving her head bald. Twice she was driven by ambulance to a hospital on a section 5150 mental health hold.
At the time Ms. Spears was just 26 years old. Her father went to court to file papers for a mental health conservatorship. That is a legal instrument that allows a parent or spouse to take over certain aspects of a person’s life. The concept is that if someone is not mentally well they are not able to handle things like money and career issues.
Until the past few months, people were not really aware of what this arrangement entailed. There have even been protests under the banner #FreeBritney. Now that Ms. Spears is fighting to regain control over her life the topic of conservatorship is trending.
What is Mental Health Conservatorship?
It is likely that Ms. Spears’ conservatorship was based upon the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act of 1967. The LPS Act creates an option for one adult to take control of the affairs of another adult. This is a legal setup that is used when there are signs of severe mental illness that makes it hard for the person to care for themselves.
To obtain this kind of conservatorship, the person seeking control must show just cause. This involves a deep dive into the mental health background of the loved one. It might include past mental health treatment, mental health 72-hour holds, and even prior suicide attempts. It relies on the written documents that mental health providers send to the court to back up the petitioner’s claims.
What Types of Conservatorship can the Court Grant?
A conservatorship can be two types, either or both. This depends on the extent of the impairment cited. The instrument gives the conservator power over the person’s health and/or estate. The two types include:
- LPS Conservatorship of the Person. This type is granted when the person with mental illness is clearly not able to care for him or herself. It also helps set up treatment plans for the person.
- LPS Conservatorship of the Estate. This type allows the conservator to manage the person’s financial affairs and any related decisions.
What Does it Mean to be Gravely Disabled?
The only way an adult can take control over another adult is if the person has severe mental illness. When this person has no other options to aid them with daily life, the court is able to grant that power to the conservator.
Some of the more severe mental illnesses include:
- Schizophrenia. This is a psychotic disorder that features a loss of touch with reality.
- Bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder involves severe mood swings between manic mood and depressive mood.
- Depression. Depression features sadness and hopelessness, loss of interest, change in sleep and eating habits, and suicidal thoughts.
- OCD. OCD involves obsessive fears or thoughts that lead to compulsive actions in order to relieve anxiety.
- Schizoaffective disorder. Similar symptoms to schizophrenia but last just 1-6 months.
- Chronic alcoholism. Severe alcohol use disorder can become gravely disabling as health worsens.
When the mental health history portrays a serious level of impairment, the court is likely to grant the conservatorship.
Signs of a Mental Breakdown
There are some clear signs that something is amiss with someone’s mental health. These signs will usually emerge gradually and then worsen over time. The loved one may have trouble coping with the slightest stress, or can’t manage simple daily tasks. Be aware of these signs and do have the person assessed if they persist:
- Severe mood swings.
- Can no longer do simple tasks.
- Panic attacks.
- Sleep disruption.
- Neglects personal hygiene.
- Intense fatigue.
- Trouble speaking clearly, slowed speech.
- Withdraws from people, avoids social settings.
- Excess absences from work.
- Sense of choking.
- Loss of interest in daily life.
- Paranoid thoughts.
- Violent outbursts.
- Threatens suicide.
How Does Someone Seek a Mental Health Conservatorship for a Loved One?
A request can be made if a loved one has shown grave disability due to a mental illness or SUD. They must file a formal request with the court to take over the loved one’s estate and/or healthcare.
In most cases there will have been a serious event that triggers the perceived need to intervene in the person’s daily life. Maybe they have had a mental breakdown, or a psychotic break. Maybe they made an attempt to end their life. Maybe their struggles with mental illness have led to money problems. Again, the person must be deemed “gravely disabled” before a court will grant the LPS conservatorship.
How Long Does a Conservatorship Last?
A mental health conservatorship must be renewed each year. The order only lasts for one year, so if the loved one is still not able to care for themselves. About 3 months prior to when the order is set to end it must be renewed through the court. This process can be repeated as many years as the person is gravely disabled.
If your loved one is showing signs of severe impairment due to mental illness, you may want to look into this option. In the case of Ms. Spears, it appears that the order can be abused in some cases. She is trying to make the case with the court that she is no longer in need of this control. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be in her case.
The Treatment Specialist is an Online Resource for Mental Health Topics
The Treatment Specialist is an online resource for informative articles on mental health conditions and treatment options for adults, teens, and families. If your loved one is showing signs of a mental health crisis, our team can provide guidance. Give The Treatment Specialist a call today at (866) 644-7911.