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Sun, Jan. 26

Column: Advance medical directives should also include mental health instructions

While it is more common than ever for individuals to have advance health care directives expressing one's wishes in case of an emergency, it is still not as common as it should be. And in terms of having mental health directives in place, it is even less common. According to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, studies indicate that most Americans have still not engaged in this type of healthcare planning or have not yet put directions for such important decision-making in writing.

Although the focus of advance healthcare planning has been largely on end-of-life medical decision-making, consumers of mental health services are also encouraged to record their treatment preferences in the event of a psychiatric crisis. The Bazelon Center urges people with mental illnesses to consider creating a psychiatric advance directive - a legal document stating the individual's choices of mental health services and providers and naming a trusted agent to make future decisions about mental health treatment. Such a document can provide important information if its author experiences an acute episode of psychiatric illness and becomes unable to make or communicate decisions about treatment.

There are sample documents, both for primary health and mental health directives, online at the Arizona Attorney General's website, www.azag.gov, under the life care planning section. The www.bazelon.org site also offers guidance in this important area.

As this calendar year starts to wind down and you start setting those New Year goals and resolutions, why not put healthcare planning on your list? What better way to ensure that your healthcare preferences are known than to complete your advance directives? It will give you peace of mind, and it will provide a clear map for the loved ones who will act for you should you become unable.

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