The Treatment Advocacy Center was founded in Arlington, Virginia, by E. Fuller Torrey, MD, in 1998. Dr. Torrey had worked for 15 years at a Washington, DC, clinic for homeless people with severe mental illness and authored Out of the Shadows: Confronting America’s Mental Illness Crisis about the criminalization of mental illness. After consulting with other experts in the mental health and legal fields, he concluded that a concentrated effort was needed to reform state civil commitment laws so that decompensating individuals with severe mental illness received treatment before they became dangerous, homeless, incarcerated, victimized or suffered other common consequences of non-treatment.

Entrepreneur Theodore Stanley and his wife Vada already were generous supporters of research on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder at the Stanley Medical Research Institute (SMRI) in Chevy Chase, Maryland. They shared Dr. Torrey’s views on the need for legal reform and agreed to provide partial support for a new organization dedicated to improving access to treatment for those too ill to seek it for themselves. To maintain credibility, a decision was made to forgo financial support from the pharmaceutical industry. Instead, the organization from the start has relied upon the contributions of individuals and foundations who believe in its mission. This includes its continuing affiliation with SMRI.

In the fifteen years since its founding, the Treatment Advocacy Center has participated in the improvement of treatment laws in nearly half the U.S. states and promoted the implementation of those laws. It has produced a manual for mental health professionals who are implementing assisted outpatient treatment (AOT); fought state hospital closures; published evidence-based research on topics including the impact of untreated severe mental illness on law enforcement, the criminalization of mental illness and anosognosia (“lack of insight”); filed amicus briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court and state courts; raised public awareness of mental illness treatment issues through active media outreach; and otherwise served as a watchdog for and champion of expanded treatment options for its target population.

Dr. Torrey has said he was motivated to found the organization by a conviction that “until we find the causes and definitive treatments for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, we have an obligation to try to improve the lives of those who are suffering.” Today, he says, “The Treatment Advocacy Center is the only organization willing to take on this fight.”

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