J Korean Neuropsychiatr Assoc.  2018 May;57(2):145-156. 10.4306/jknpa.2018.57.2.145.

Critique of Mental Health Welfare Law in Korea : Focusing on Involuntary Hospitalization Criteria

  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Asan Medical Center, University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea.
  • 2Department of Psychiatry, Ulsan University Hospital, University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Ulsan, Korea. dreye@chol.com


Under new mental health and welfare law, involuntary admission is allowed only for persons with mental illness based on the narrowed criteria of mental illness when they meet both need for treatment and danger to themselves and others. These stringent danger criteria along with narrowed definition of mental illness may prevent timely intervention for people with acute psychosis. It is claimed that the danger criteria is essential to keep up with international (UN, WHO) principles for legislation of mental health acts and laws of advanced countries. The international principles, however, do not necessarily call for stringent danger criteria for involuntary hospitalization. Danger criteria are not also prerequisites for involuntary hospitalization in many advanced countries. In countries with strict danger criteria, complementary measures seem to be taken for the drawback of danger criteria. As for the involuntary hospitalization by legal guardians, the complicated qualification for legal guardians may hinder prompt admission. The required number of legal guardians also needs to be changed from two to one person. Even in the situation where involuntary hospitalization is deemed urgent, there is no way to transport the patients to the hospital for assessment or temporary admission unless the police judges the patients to be dangerous to themselves or others. Outpatient treatment order can be an alternative to involuntary admission. However, it is rarely used since the order cannot be applied to those who do not have history of admission due to danger. For voluntary admission, status conversion to involuntary admission needs to be allowed in case of aggravation of symptoms to meet involuntary admission criteria. In addition, informal admission needs to be introduced to avoid unnecessary formal procedures for patients admitting voluntarily to open ward. In view of all these issues with new mental health and welfare law, entire revision of new mental health law is urgent to balance the rights to proper treatments and protection of human rights of persons with mental disorder.


Mental Health and Welfare Law; Mental Health Law; Involuntary hospitalization; Mental disorders; Danger criteria; Need for treatment; Human rights
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