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Legal Questions

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It's my understanding that when someone call the National Suicide Hotline, as I have, your calling number is ID and the conversation is recorded, to get on tape your admission that you are indeed thinking about suicide. They keep asking and asking, until it becomes obvious, to me at any rate, it's what they're after.

With that, they call or refer you to the state mental health authorities AND alert them that you called the Hotline. The state agency then calls the county agency and there's where the problems really begin, or are added to, I should say.

The law, I believe, says that the state can require you to see professional help and if you refuse and they can state some justification for it, you can be taken into protective custody, "...for the persons safety and that of the public."

There's no bail, no trial and no set time they can keep you locked up, even if you can afford an attorney, which would be advisable.

The county mental health agency here expects you to come in and be intereviewed by some kid off the street, then put into some program of their choosing. Here, the only option is a group session that meets once a month, IF there are enough people. And, of course, the person gets to pay for the sessions. I guess when the money runs out, you're cured? Is that how it works?

What I'm asking is what in the blue blazes are the legal risks involved in asking for help?
i've used three different suicide hotlines. my experience wasn't anything like you describe. they just listened compassionately and offered supportive advice. i've also talked to my doctor and therapist about being suicidal. i wasn't forced into any program. maybe someone who has used that specific hotline can answer you.

here in canada you are only hospitalized on a form if your plan is imminent. not for thinking about it or talking about suicide. only if you tell them that you are going to act on it immediately. they can only hold you for 72 hours.
you might want to visit www.befrienders.org and check out some suicide hotlines

I think that many hotlines have confidentiality policies, and they may say something about that on their web pages

you could also call and ask them what their confidentiallity policies are. If they say they don't keep info confidential, then just hang up.

I'm pretty sure that most hotlines are confidential

update, I just found this
Are you in crisis? Please call 1-800-273-TALK
Are you feeling desperate, alone or hopeless? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call will be routed to the nearest crisis center to you.

* Call for yourself or someone you care about
* Free and confidential
* A network of more than 150 crisis centers nationwide
* Available 24/7

so it says that it is confidential. you can probably ask them more about their confidentiallity policies


Active Member
As May71 said, you can ask what their policies are. They can't lie. If they are evasive, hang up.

You have a right to refuse medical treatment in the United States. For you to be forced into psychiatric care, a doctor has to be able to prove to a judge that it is necessary. The doctor can't just make the call on his/her own. If you are already committed they are permitted to hold you for, I think, a day or two to give them time to try to get this order from the judge.

The only exception is if you confess to (or are discovered as) having tried to kill yourself. Then you are held for 72 hours, period.

If you are brought to a hospital and don't want to go, say you are not suicidal and you do not want to go. No one really knows if you are suicidal but you.

If it is a police officer, you need to ask them "am I being detained?" and "am I free to go?" until they give you a solid answer. They know what this means -- you are asserting your 4th amendment right against unreasonable seizure of person. They need to have a damn good reason to detain you.

But again, the chances of it coming to this are low.


Well-Known Member
I'd like to add that you've gotta really sound suicidal for hotlines to tag you as requiring medical attention without your consent. I mean, like, you've got shotguns in each hand and the hotline's on speakerphone while you shout, "I'M ABOUT TO KILL MYSELF!"

In any case, they very rarely call the police.


Staff Alumni
I know the Samaritans (in the UK) would only call for an ambulance for you if you give them your address, and even then they would try to get you to call for the ambulance yourself first. The volunteers at the Samaritans do not have your phone number etc in front of them so they cannot trace it. Although I believe that if you phoned threatening to bomb somewhere they would legally have to alert the police.

But that's in the UK and maybe different to the USA but as others have said you could maybe look at their website for information or ask about their policy when you first phone up.


Well-Known Member
I only know about 1-800-SUICIDE since i'm going under training to volunteer with them right now. There's a document that we're encouraged to fill out about the person we're in a call or IM with, and it basically asks what's wrong, if the suicide questions was asked, if an attempt is in progress (if yes they take emergency action right away), why they're feeling like this, with what, where and when, if they have done it in the past, who's involved (if a pact), reasons why they want to live, then we check off suicide risk indicators(like ideation, pain, hopelessness, history of attempts, intoxicated/substance abuse, suicide plan), then we check off the level of risk.

If they seem suicidal, we will try to persuade them to let us help them out, try to make a "no harm pact", and refer them to somebody. If they don't let us help them and they seem like they're in danger, we call 911 if we have enough information and the phone number, or trace the call then call 911. We can also let supervisors join the call at any time if we don't feel comfortable with continuing.

With this being said, I don't encourage you to lie about how you feel, but keep in mind that they have the power to get an ambulance to your door in a matter of minutes if they feel like you're in imminent danger. If you seem like you're not a huge threat to yourself, we will talk to you for how many minutes or hours you want about whatever you want and try to talk you through your crisis.
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