What is a 5150 hold? The involuntary mental health hospitalization explained
What is a 5150 hold? The involuntary mental health hospitalization explained. (Illustration by Nathalie Cruz)…
The term “5150 hold” has been used in the media with Amanda Bynes and other celebrities who have struggled with their mental health — and here’s exactly what it means.
The number pertains to the section of the State of California’s Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) on the “Detention of Mentally Disordered Persons for Evaluation and Treatment.” Code 5150 states that when a person, as a result of a mental health disorder, is a danger to others or themselves, they can be involuntarily held for psychiatric assessment and crisis intervention for a period of up to 72 hours.
The period is sometimes referred to as an “observation period,” according to UCLA Health. During this time, the treatment team assesses whether the patient meets criteria for involuntary hospitalization. The law states that the patient must be treated “in the least restrictive setting possible” while in care.
The code drills down into more specifics — including the guidelines used to determine if someone is in need of such intervention as well as the oral advisement the person must be given. Patients are told they are not under criminal arrest, but are being taken for an examination by mental health professions.
The law also stipulates that the care team must break the hold when the patient no longer meets criteria for involuntary hospitalization. So if a person is on a 72-hour hold, they may be released earlier. Alternatively, a 5150 can be extended to a 5250, which is a 14-day hold. (Other states have different names for the process of handling people deemed in a mental health crisis. For instance, New York has the “Mental Hygiene Law,” in which people can involuntarily be taken into treatment at a mental health facility.)
Bynes was placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold on Sunday. The All That star, 36, who struggles with bipolar disorder and was in a conservatorship for eight years, reportedly flagged down a car and asked for help. Bynes, who was naked and alone, said she had come out of a psychotic episode. She called police herself and was taken to a nearby police station, where a mental health crisis team determined she needed to be placed on a 5150 hold.
A TikTok influencer posted a video in which she bumped into Bynes on Friday, St. Patrick’s Day, on a Hollywood street amid the apparent episode. The former child star made headlines in 2013 for run-ins with police and other troubling events. She was placed in an involuntary psychiatric hold after setting a fire in a stranger’s driveway, which reportedly injured her dog. The conservatorship was put in place, under her parents, in the aftermath. During that time, Bynes studied fashion design while getting treatment for mental health. She lived in sober homes and transitional living before moving out on her own. The conservatorship ended one year ago.
Other stars have struggled too. Kanye West was placed on an involuntary psych hold in 2016 while suffering from “temporary psychosis due to sleep deprivation and dehydration” — the year the rapper was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He said his treatment was abysmal: “They handcuff you, they drug you, they put you on the bed and they separate you from everyone you know… When you are in that state, you have to have someone you trust. It is cruel and primitive to do that.”
Britney Spears was also placed on back-to-back involuntary psych holds in 2008. Once, after locking herself and her baby in a closet when it was time for a custody exchange, and the second time within the same month. At the time, the singer was coping with a lot — a divorce, custody battle, postpartum depression, global stardom, relentless paparazzi — and the glaring eyes of the world on her. Soon after, she was put into a conservatorship that lasted 13 years.
In 2009, The O.C. actress Mischa Barton was placed into an involuntary psych hold after being removed from her home. She has since said that she was burnt out from working non-stop at the time (she was also the target of blogger vitriol in that era), and exhaustion and prescription medications contributed to the event. Amid what she called “a full-on breakdown” and “straight out of Girl, Interrupted,” she was ultimately committed for two weeks to a mental health facility. She said it ended up being “an eye-opener” though, explaining, “I was deeply hurt at first, and then I accepted this was time I needed to be away from my family and all the pressure. I had been through the wringer.”
They aren’t alone. David Hasselhoff was on a psych hold in 2013 and Terminator 3 actor Nick Stahl the same year. Police were called to Scott Disick’s home in 2017 for a possible 5150 and he was taken to the hospital, but he was released prior to the 72 hours.
Going back even further, the late Superman actress Margot Kidder also was held on a 72-hour psychiatric evaluation in 1996 — long before any of the modern discussions about mental health. Kidder had been found, three days after going missing, living in a cardboard box in someone’s yard in Glendale, Calif. Kidder, who had bipolar disorder, went on to become one of the most prominent mental health advocates. She died by suicide in 2018. The same year, Bad Boys actor Martin Lawrence was screaming and disoriented in a crowded L.A. street with a loaded pistol in his pocket when police were called and he was hospitalized. His spokesperson said he was exhausted and dehydrated, and two days later he was back on the set. He was treated for depression, he has said.
“5150” has been absorbed into pop culture. Even before any of those examples, Van Halen named an album 5150 after the code in 1986. It was also the name of Eddie Van Halen’s recording studio. His producer Donn Landee reportedly came up with the name after hearing 5150 on a police scanner, and he and Van Halen jokingly called themselves the “5150s.” Per Dictionary.com and Urban Dictionary, 5150 has been adopted as an expression for someone struggling with their mental health.
Bynes’s hold is set to expire imminently. According to TMZ, her parents are not considering trying to reinstitute the conservatorship. A source said she had been living independently in her own house and was taking cosmetology classes. Until fairly recently, she seemed to be doing fine so they are treating the episode as an anomaly.
If your or someone you know is struggling with self-harm, call or text the National Alliance on Mental Illness hotline (NAMI) at 800-950-6264 or call or text 988.