Published July 17, 2009
A psychiatric expert said California authorities were fearful actress Mischa Barton might have ended up dead within 24 hours when they decided to hospitalize her under the state’s involuntary psychiatric-hold law Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s a 24-hour standard for these statutes,” said Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and FOX News contributor. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Would this person die in the next 24 hours?’ They have to be at the brink of complete disaster.”
Barton, 23, was brought to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles where she was hospitalized under the state’s section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, the New York Post reported.
The statute allows the state to hold people in the hospital for up to 72 hours if they are a danger to themselves or others. After 72 hours, a judge would have to be brought in if the person does not agree to voluntarily check herself in.
It is the same statute that allowed the state to put Britney Spears in the psychiatric unit at Cedars-Sinai in early 2008.
Barton was taken to the hospital after police were called to her Los Angeles home Wednesday afternoon in order to “assist her with a medical issue,” according to the Post.
“Every state has an involuntary statute and it is designed for people to be hospitalized who don’t wish to be and need to be,” Ablow said. “It is not because she is famous, and it is not about keeping her safe from the paparazzi. These laws are about conveying someone to a psychiatric facility who can’t get there herself or who is unwilling to go.”
Ablow, who has not treated Barton, said in order for the state to step in and essentially assign itself the guardian of an individual — as California did with Barton — the statute says there must be a mental disorder present; and the person either can’t care for him or herself, might kill herself, or has threatened to harm someone else.
Barton, who played the rich girl-next-door Marissa Cooper on FOX’s “The O.C.,” was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, possession of marijuana, and driving without a valid license in December 2007. She was later charged with a DUI and driving without a valid license.
Tabloid rumors have circulated for years about Barton’s skeletal frame and weight loss, but she looked bloated on the red carpet last week.
“If she is involved in drugs or alcohol, that could be the primary problem,” Ablow said. “She could’ve been bloated because she is using substances, or because she is taking meds for a mental disorder, and that is a side effect. We really don’t know, of course.”
What Ablow does know is that involuntary hospitalizations do not just happen to young starlets like Barton and Spears — in fact, they happen to people of all walks of life. We only hear about them more often because they are famous and reported.
However, he said, Hollywood entertainers may be more vulnerable to depression.
“Probably if you are an entertainer, you are someone who relies on a lot of outside stimulation and a lot of positive feedback to reassure yourself that you are a good and decent person,” Ablow said. “Maybe you don’t have a firm and anchored core sense of self. This is not true of every actor, but Hollywood does seem to draw people who are looking for a sense of self-worth.”