Earlier this week, Kanye West left UCLA Medical Center after over a week. On November 21, after days of erratic public behavior, including calling out Jay-Z and Beyonce on stage, supporting Donald Trump, and canceling his world tour, West was put in a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold and hospitalized for mental health issues. West allegedly attempted to attack a staff member at a gym earlier that day and was placed in the hold by his own doctor before being escorted by the police to the hospital. Though an obscure section of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, the 5150 hold has become a household name due to the number of celebrities that have been involuntarily held after public or private mental health breakdowns.
Thanks to Los Angeles's high density of A-listers, the 5150 hold has become associated with California and celebrities. Knotts Berry Farm once even opened a haunted mental institution ride that was originally called "Fear VR 5150." (The ride closed after mental health advocates protested the theme park.)
Mediocre actor turned politician Ronald Reagan signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, establishing the 5150 code in law when he served as California governor in 1967, but the code isn't specific to California. "All states have versions of these laws," says Dr. John Sharp, a board certified psychiatrist who works at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. "Mental health professionals and law enforcement commend them for their ability to get a person to safety in order to facilitate further evaluation and treatment."
According to the California code, a patient can be held "when a person, as a result of a mental health disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled, a peace officer [or] professional person in charge… may, upon probable cause, take, or cause to be taken, the person into custody for a period of up to 72 hours for assessment, evaluation, and crisis intervention."
Dr. Sharp adds that a person can also be put under such a hold when they are incapacitated with a reversible mental illness. "Incapacity is the inability to provide food, clothing, or shelter due to a reversible mental disorder," he says. "The idea is the person is presumably incapable of informed refusal for life sustaining care at the time." Holds can be extended for up to two weeks and even longer if the person in the hold is ruled to still be a danger to themselves or others.
West is just the latest in a host of celebrities who have been put in the involuntary hold, but the code is infamous for being used on female celebrities, thanks to the case of Britney Spears. The princess of pop was put in two 5150 holds during her infamous meltdown, during which she famously shaved her head and attacked paparazzi with an umbrella.
In January 2008, Spears was put in her first hold after locking her son in her Los Angeles home and refusing to turn him over to her ex-husband, Kevin Federline. Police eventually wheeled her out of the house in a gurney. Spears's next hold came later that month after the police were called on the singer because she was driving erratically around her neighborhood. 5150 holds can end in a conservatorship being established for the hospitalized party; the court-ordered conservatorships place decisions about finances and even banal day-to-day life in the hand of a guardian. Spear's holds were the beginning of her father, Jamie Spears, and attorney Andrew M. Wallet becoming her lasting conservators. They have acted on her behalf from 2008 to the current day.
5150s have become a motif in the stories of troubled female celebrities. After months of erratic behavior, including a DUI and bizarre Twitter rants, Amanda Bynes was placed in a 5150 in 2013 after she lit a small fire in a driveway. The next year, she was placed in a second hold after a flight to LAX airport. Her second hospital stay was extended to the full two weeks and ended in Bynes being placed under conservatorship.
Not all holds end in conservatorships. In 2009, OC actress and tabloid fixture Mischa Barton was put in a 5150 hold after a 911 call; although she initially claimed the hospitalization was due to a botched wisdom teeth procedure, Barton later admitted that she had a "full-on breakdown" before being held. Following a particularly bad drinking binge, David Hasselhoff was also allegedly put in a 5150 in 2009, though his lawyer subsequently denied the reports.
Despite its reputation in pop culture, the 5150 is an effective measure for improving the lives of those with psychiatric illness. Almost all of the celebrities who have been held under the code have vastly improved their mental health since their hospitalization, and 5150 holds have had surprising positive consequences as a gun control measure. After being held under a 5150, a patient faces a five year ban on purchasing firearms. By prohibiting people with histories of mental illness from buying guns, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence claims that California has seen a downturn in gun-related deaths. Gun rights advocates, though, view the code as a way for overzealous cops or medical professionals to disenfranchise gun owners of their rights.
Mental health rights advocates advise all 5150 and involuntary hold patients to keep abreast on their rights and to make a plan for when they are released from the hospital to protect themselves. Sharp believes that 5150s are ultimately for the benefit of people with mental illness. "Some patients see the hold as a deprivation of liberty," Sharp says. "Doctors take the Hippocratic oath and that holds in the interest of the patient only."