How To Section Someone for Mental Health in Massachusetts

Sectioning someone under the Mental Health Act differs from state to state. So, how’s the process in Massachusetts?

The civil commitment process begins by filing a petition under the Massachusetts General Law Chapter 123, Section 35, or Section 12 (e). A judge will decide if there’s reasonable cause to believe that the person is dangerous and mentally ill. If so, they will be held at the treatment center.

Read more to fully understand how to section someone for mental health in Massachusetts. This guide digs deeper into the civil commitment process in Massachusetts, including eligibility.

How To Section Someone for Mental Health in Massachusetts 1

What Does Sectioning Mean?

Sectioning or civil commitment is a legal process where an individual deemed to have a severe mental disorder by a qualified medical officer is involuntarily detained and treated at a mental health facility. The process is also referred to informally as an involuntary commitment or involuntary hospitalization.

What Does Section 35 and 12 (e) Entail?

Section 35 involves filing for commitment for the treatment of alcohol or substance use disorder. Section 12 (e), on the other hand, is filing for an emergency mental health commitment.

What are the criteria for commitment?

So, who qualifies as a mental health crisis in Massachusetts? Four criteria need to be met before an individual can be involuntarily committed:

  • The person must suffer from a mental illness. This means that if someone’s behavior is not caused by their mental illness, they cannot be committed.
  • Because of this illness, the person poses a risk of serious harm to both himself and others.
  • They must not have the capacity to make their own decisions.
  • Their mental health issues are too severe to manage in a less restrictive setting.

Likelihood of serious harm: what does it mean?

The likelihood of serious harm can mean one of three things:

  • The person poses a significant risk of self-harm as demonstrated by evidence, threats of, or attempts at serious bodily injury or suicide; or
  • The person poses a significant risk of physical harm to others based on evidence such as homicidal or violent behavior or when others are justifiably afraid of the individual’s out-of-control temper tantrums; or
  • The person’s judgment is so impaired that it would be unreasonable for them to protect themselves from self-harm. Thus, no reasonable provision to protect against this risk is currently being offered in the community.

Who Can Petition a Section 35 or 12 (e)?

This petition can be filed by a spouse, family member, or guardian. A police officer, a physician, or a court official can also file it. It can be an affidavit or a written petition for an order of commitment.

How to Section Someone for Mental Health in Massachusetts: Civil Commitment Process

So, what’s the civil commitment process in Massachusetts? The process begins by filing a petition with the local court.

A court will review all the facts and decide between issuing a summon or an arrest warrant. If it is believed that the respondent will not show up to a hearing without being forced, and when delaying would pose an imminent threat to their life, the judge may issue a warrant of apprehension.

Then the respondent will receive an order to appear before a judge if summonsed. In the case of an arrest warrant, law enforcement officials will attempt to find the respondent, take them into custody, and deliver them to court for a commitment hearing.

Accordingly, the arrest warrant is valid for up to 5 consecutive days, excluding weekends and all legal holidays, or until the respondent appears in court, whichever event comes first.

Once in court, the respondent has the right to an attorney to defend the case before a judge. But if the court deems that the respondent cannot afford one, it will immediately appoint one for them.

The judge will order an examination by a qualified psychologist, physician, or social worker at the court hearing. However, it’s within one’s right to refuse an examination.

Likewise, the respondent’s attorney may present expert testimony and/or testimonies from those concerned such as family, friends, employers, and so forth. Then the jury will evaluate the testimony and evidence of the examination.

Similarly, the court will then render judgment on whether or not the respondent meets the criteria for involuntary commitment. If it finds that the respondent is both mentally ill and a risk of serious harm to self or to others or that no less restrictive alternative is available, it will issue an order of civil commitment.

Once the commitment is upheld at the hearing, the state will seek placement in an accepting facility. The respondent will then be taken to the said facility for treatment.

Detention Period Under Sections 35 and 12 (e)?

Under section 35 of the Massachusetts Mental Health Act, an individual will be detained involuntarily for up 90 days. On the other hand, the detention period is 3 days under section 12 (e).

Hospital staff can release patients before the end of their commitment period if they are mentally stable at that time. Alternatively, hospital staff may request a recommitment hearing if a patient does not stabilize within the allotted timeframe.

List of Civil Commitment Facilities in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has many facilities where a patient may be civilly committed if deemed necessary by the court. Here’s a list of the best civil commitment facilities in Massachusetts to help you find the right one for someone who needs help recovering from their mental illness.

Men’s FacilitiesWomen’s Facilities
Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (MASAC)Women’s Addiction Treatment Center (WATC)
Stonybrook Stabilization and Treatment Centers (SSTC)Women’s Recovery from Addictions Program – Taunton (WRAP)
High Point Meadowbrook treatment center BrocktonBehavioral Health Network (BHN) Greenfield
Men’s Recovery from Addictions Program (RAP)Recovery Centers of America (RCA) Danvers
High Point Treatment Center PlymouthHigh Point Treatment Center Plymouth

Facility Transfers

Transfers are possible under the Massachusetts General Law Chapter 123, Section 3. The department of health may transfer any patient from one healthcare facility to another if it deems it appropriate for the individual’s well-being.

However, no transfer to a private facility shall occur without approval from the superintendent. If approved, the superintendent shall give written notice six days before the transfer from a facility to the guardian or nearest relative. Thus, the superintendent shall give notice within 24 hours after the transfer for emergency transfers.

Alternatives to Civil Commitment

Must one be sectioned to receive treatment? Or are there any other options? As it turns out, civil or involuntary commitment isn’t always a good treatment option at first. Normally, the accused can agree to go to the hospital. This is called voluntary admission under chapter 123, Section 10.

However, treatment decisions are best made when one takes a role in deciding if one wants to participate. In fact, outcomes are almost always better if one is motivated or willing to engage in treatment. Hence, only resort to involuntary commitment as the last option.


So, there you have it, a guide on how to section someone for mental health in Massachusetts. I’ve shed some light on the process and what to expect when going through it. Typically, there are two ways (Chapter 123, sections 35 and 12 (e)) to section someone for mental health, and this guide covers each scenario. 

If you find yourself needing to section someone, following these steps can help make this process as smooth as possible. It may not always be easy - but it will always be worth it.

Your Thoughts?

Leave a reply

Finding Optimism