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Medically Reviewed

Medically reviewed by Jennifer Strong, LMHC

Written by Tampa Bay Recovery staff
Updated on February 27, 2024


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The Florida Baker Act helps family members and others initiate treatment when another person’s mental illness precludes them from making sound decisions. Oftentimes, the Baker Act gets the person examined by mental health professionals and then into a treatment program. However, some people hesitate to initiate mental health services for a loved one due to fear of the consequences of being “Baker Acted.”

Unfortunately, some situations demand immediate action to prevent harm to the person or others. In these cases, loved ones must consider the consequences of not initiating the Baker Act.

What is the Florida Baker Act?

The Florida Baker Act is a law that allows concerned individuals to initiate involuntary mental health examinations and services for another person. The person in question must be an imminent threat to themselves or others due to a mental illness. Overall, the Baker Act is for mental health emergencies, like suicidal behaviors or threatening behaviors, that could cause harm to the person or others.

Family members, law enforcement officers, or other concerned individuals usually initiate the Baker Act. Examples of situations where the Baker Act could apply include the following:

  • A person who cannot take care of their basic health and safety needs due to a severe mental illness
  • Hallucinations that suggest self-harm or harmful acts to others
  • Suicidal threats or behaviors—especially when the person has access to the means of acting on suicidal ideations
  • Depression so severe that a person no longer takes care of themselves or those who depend on them (like their children or an elderly family member)

It’s also important to note what the Florida Baker Act is not used for. For example, suppose a family member refuses mental health treatment, but their symptoms don’t put themselves or others in a life-threatening emergency. In that case, the Baker Act cannot be used to get them into treatment. 

In addition, the Baker Act is for mental illness or suspected mental illness—not for life-threatening behaviors while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

What Happens When Someone is Baker Acted?

“Baker Acted” means that another person initiates the process for involuntary mental health treatment or examination of someone else. Most commonly, this will be a family member, co-worker, or a close friend. However, they must contact a judge, law enforcement officer, or a mental health professional to enforce the Baker Act. 

If one of the above-mentioned professionals decides to enforce the Baker Act on someone, then that person will be involuntarily institutionalized for no more than 72 hours. While institutionalized, the person will get an examination to determine the need for continuing emergency treatment. This exam helps to understand the scope and severity of the person’s mental illness as well as recommend appropriate treatment.

So, there are a few possible consequences of being Baker Acted, such as:

  • A qualified healthcare practitioner determines that the person doesn’t pose a threat to themselves or others, and they are discharged.
  • During the exam, the person recognizes the need for treatment and agrees to voluntarily enter a treatment program.
  • The person meets the criteria for involuntary treatment and is placed into a program following their exam.

The Baker Act helps to protect a person or other people from harm due to severe mental illness. In addition, the process of the Baker Act ensures that people aren’t institutionalized unnecessarily. Thus, it helps to protect the rights of all those involved—including the individual in question.

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How Do I Know I Need to Initiate a Baker Act for My Loved One?

It can be difficult for loved ones to know if they need to initiate the Baker Act. However, the loved one in question must be unable to make sound decisions regarding the need for mental health treatment. Additionally, they can’t be Baker Acted for minor and non-life-threatening symptoms.

The following questions can help loved ones know when they need to initiate a Baker Act:

  • Is the person threatening others with violence due to mental health symptoms, such as hallucinations or paranoia?
  • Are they threatening suicidal actions or engaging in violent self-harming behaviors that risk their life or long-term health?
  • Are they unable to care for themselves in a way that threatens their survival? One example could be if they refuse to consume any food and water. Another could be the person cannot keep up with housework in a way that creates a safety hazard.
  • Do they put the health and safety of others at risk? For instance, their mental illness prevents them from providing for an elderly or disabled family member or young children in their care.

It’s also important to note that these issues for a Baker Act must be due to a mental illness or suspected symptoms of a mental illness. The Baker Act is not for people with intellectual disabilities or substance abuse. 

However, in the event of an emergency, a loved one should always call emergency services or 911. From there, law enforcement officers can help regarding the next steps or if a Baker Act is necessary.

What is the Difference Between a Marchman Act and a Baker Act?

Both the Baker Act and the Marchman Act initiate involuntary examination and possibly treatment for emergencies. However, the Marchman Act is for those with substance abuse issues, whereas the Baker Act is for mental illness. Overall, both acts initiate a similar process and could lead to involuntary treatment or rehabilitation.

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How Does The Baker Act Process Work?

The Baker Act involves a process to ensure that the person is indeed unable to make informed decisions about their mental health needs when they pose a danger to themselves or others. Oftentimes, symptoms of severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, distort a person’s sense of reality. Thus, they don’t fully understand that their actions could be dangerous.

The following steps highlight the Baker Act Process:
  • First and foremost, the person must show signs of impairment due to mental illness. Most often, this will occur when a person is in a state of psychosis that hinders their ability to make rational decisions. The situation must also be dangerous. In other words, a person can’t be involuntarily institutionalized solely for refusing treatment unless their refusal threatens their safety or those around them.
  • Next, the person must refuse an exam when asked to voluntarily undergo one. In some cases, the person might recognize the severity of the situation when law enforcement is involved or family members express concern. If they choose to get an evaluation of voluntarily, a Baker Act is no longer necessary.
  • A court order means that the person must get a mental health examination. The court will decide based on all the information available about the situation. After they decide, law enforcement officers will take the person into custody for treatment.
  • A court hearing determines the person cannot make sound decisions regarding mental health treatment. Depending on the circumstances, the person could be placed into involuntary mental health treatment after a hearing.
  • A healthcare professional must determine the need for involuntary treatment. This could be a licensed clinical social worker, a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, a psychiatric nurse, or a medical doctor. If a clinical psychologist did not conduct the exam, then one must conduct a second exam to refute or support the results.
  • If the person is brought to a hospital for an emergency, then two mental health professionals have 72 hours to conduct an evaluation.
  • Finally, the person is either discharged because they don’t meet the need for involuntary treatment, goes to treatment voluntarily, or is involuntarily admitted to a treatment facility.

What Are the Consequences of a Baker Act?

The consequences of a Baker Act don’t always lead to involuntary treatment. However, if they do, the person will get the help they need, even if they don’t recognize that they need it. This could lead to the person coming to terms with what happened and understanding why they were Baker Acted.

Furthermore, even if involuntary treatment isn’t deemed necessary, initiating the process could resolve an imminently dangerous situation. Or it could be a wake-up call for the person in question to seek mental health treatment.

Get Mental Health Treatment in Tampa Today

Initiating a Baker Act on a loved one can be difficult. Unfortunately, some situations are so dire and potentially dangerous, that a family member or friend must act accordingly. Oftentimes, being Baker Acted is the result of long-term refusal of help, which causes an escalation of symptoms to the point of an emergency.

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, Tampa Bay Recovery Center can help you. Contact us today to get mental health treatment in Tampa, Florida.

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Baker Act FAQs

A Baker Act lasts 72 hours. This means that the person can be held involuntarily during this time for evaluation and examination. After that, they might be released or sent to a mental health treatment center.

After a Baker Act, the person could be involuntarily based in a mental health treatment program. Depending on their needs, this could be in an inpatient or outpatient facility. 

However, even if the person isn’t involuntarily sent to a facility, they likely need some form of treatment. Outpatient mental health treatment programs can help a person get the care they need if they are stabilized, yet still need support. After all, without any professional help, the person’s symptoms will continue to deteriorate and could lead to involuntary treatment in the future.

No, the purpose of a Baker Act is to get a person an examination when that person refuses, and they present a danger to themselves or others. 

Unfortunately, like any emergency medical service, the person will still have to pay if they get Baker Acted. They can use their private insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare to pay for treatment. However, they will still be responsible for copays and deductibles. 

In addition, if the person is then sent to a treatment center involuntarily, they will have to pay for their care. Still, they can use private insurance or any public insurance that they have. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many insurance companies have included mental health treatment as an essential benefit.

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