'5150 hold' in place for up to 72 hours

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A Los Angeles County mental health official on Tuesday announced local efforts to combat mental illness and state laws that enable authorities to hold unstable people for up to 72 hours

The announcement comes in the wake of a deadly shooting that left six people dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded.

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As part of a larger national effort, Department of Mental Health employees are hoping to de-stigmatize mental illness and urge the afflicted to seek treatment.

“Earlier intervention provides a better outcome,” department spokeswoman Kathleen Piche said.

One in four people will have symptoms, or a diagnosis, of mental illness during their lifetime, she said, adding “there shouldn’t be shame around it.”

One element of the county’s outreach effort is a program targeting schools that involves sheriff’s deputies and Los Angeles Unified School District personnel.

Pima Community College officials had banned alleged gunman Jared Loughner from the Tucson campus before the Jan. 8 massacre because of his video rants, and others had noted his increasingly sick behavior.

The school wanted a psychologist to certify that Loughner was not a threat to himself or others before allowing him back on campus.

A fellow student e-mailed a friend, saying Loughner “scared the living crap” out of her.

A tattoo artist who inked the image of a 9 mm bullet on the 22-year-old’s skin, the second of two such tattoos, said he thought: “That’s a weird dude. That’s a Columbine candidate.”

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Some pundits have wondered why someone at Pima Community College didn’t force Loughner to undergo a psychiatric exam or why sheriff’s deputies, who had numerous contacts with the suspect, didn’t take more aggressive action.

Under California code, if law enforcement officials or specially trained mental health workers believe that an individual is “either suicidal, homicidal or gravely disabled due to a mental disability and is dangerous,” they can put that person in a locked hospital psychiatric unit, to be held for 72 hours, said Piche.

That hold is called a “5150 hold,” based on the related regulatory code.

About 50,000 people were locked down in such units in the county over a relatively recent 12-month period, said Piche, though she did not have the exact numbers at hand. There are 46 designated hospitals in the county with these types of facilities.

If someone is deemed a danger beyond the 72-hour period, he or she can be held an additional 14 days. At that point, the individual would be entitled to a probable cause hearing, where a judge would decide whether the measure was justified.

Additional means are available to keep a non-criminal individual who poses a danger under lockdown, including a 180-day hold, which Piche said was “really rare.”

But in order for officials to take action, they have to be aware of the problem.

Some situations may warrant calling 911 to request emergency personnel. In situations that don’t require a police response, residents can call the county’s Psychiatric Mobile Response Team at (800) 854-7771.

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Trained members of that team have the ability to make a mental health assessment and request a 5150 hold if necessary.

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