Psychiatric Advance Directives: Origins, Benefits, Challenges, and Future Directions

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Psychiatric advance directives (PADs) are legal documents that allow individuals with psychiatric illness to designate decisions, while competent, about their future psychiatric care were they to lose competency due to psychiatric illness in the future. Among other items, these documents often include preferences regarding a surrogate decision-maker, types of medications, doses and routes of medications, seclusion and restraints, electroconvulsive therapy, and instructions for care of their property while incapacitated. While the concept and legal recognition of PADs has existed in the United States for several decades, use of PADs by patients and familiarity with PADs among mental health providers remain limited. This column reviews the origin of PADs, discusses several commonly considered arguments for and against the use of these documents, and concludes with a discussion of how PADs are currently used in the United States and their potential future role in mental health treatment.

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