Compulsory or Involuntary Treatment

Compulsory treatment should be avoided whenever possible, but is sometimes required

However, situations arise in which compulsory treatment may be necessary, for instance:  

  • Someone refuses life-saving medical or psychological treatment  
  • There is an immediate risk of suicide or self-harm   

When necessary, it is appropriate to treat eating disorders under the Mental Health Act. It has certainly been done before. In some circumstances, such action can be lifesaving. 

Going to hospital can be an extremely distressing experience for people with an eating disorder, particularly when it is involuntary.

The idea of going to hospital was incredibly scary for me - and also shameful - I felt like a failure because I couldn’t get better on my own. It was really hard in hospital. But looking back, I can see that is what I needed to help slingshot me towards recovery.Miya, lived experience

The way in which you present the prospect of hospital treatment can influence whether a person feels coerced and powerless about what is happening, or whether they feel a sense of agency.  

At the very outset of treatment planning, it is helpful to discuss the prospect of hospital as an intensive treatment option that might be required down the track. 

Avoid using hospital as a threat or punishment, for example, for not putting on weight. This can make them feel more resistant to inpatient treatment.

InsideOut's National Programs manager and mental health nurse, Peta Marks, explains how to introduce the prospect of inpatient treatment with empathy and compassion.

GPs should seek advice from specialist ED clinicians where compulsory admission is being considered

Treatment Services Database

Find eating disorder professionals and services near you

Whilst it is imperative to be clear and transparent about the imminent risks and need for involuntary treatment, it is important to remember that this will be an incredibly disempowering and distressing time for the person, and empathy, respect and validation will assist in maintaining the therapeutic relationship.

Want to learn more?