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Georgians with a mental health diagnosis could soon have more control over their care when their decision-making is compromised. 

The Georgia Psychiatric Advance Directive Act would allow those with diagnosed mental health disorders to create a plan and pick a representative who would have access to their medical background and be able to make treatment decisions on their behalf in the event that they are not able to do so. 

Experts say it could help those who suffer from episodic disorders that temporarily impair their ability to care for themselves.

The bill comes amid a flurry of legislative activity on mental health after Georgia House Speaker David Ralston announced it was a priority for this legislative session. It passed the House 165-0 and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Peter Ash, a psychiatrist who testified before lawmakers, said a patient who might benefit from this bill could be someone with bipolar or manic-depressive disorder.

“The typical course of that particular illness is you go along really normal for periods, then you have a period of depression, and then you get back to normal, then you get a period of mania, and then you’re back to normal,” Ash said. “So when you’re in the normal period, you know you can look at your history and you can make rational decisions about what you want and what you think you should do when you get manic.”

Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Republican from Marietta and chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, is sponsoring the bill.

“It is time to give people who suffer from any type of mental illness the opportunity to have input into how they would like to be treated when they have an episode of their mental illness,” she said.

According to the bill, a physician or psychologist that has examined the patient can invoke the directive if they determine the patient is “incapable of making mental health care decisions” because of  “impaired thinking” or “other cognitive disability.”

Daniel Munster, an elder law attorney with the State Bar of Georgia, said the law would allow people to outline their mental health diagnosis and common symptoms in preparation for an event. 

“You can also identify historical treatments that have been successful, historical treatments that have not worked well,” Munster said. 

As written, Georgia law on advance medical directives does not include mental health treatment.

“There’s a gap in our current law,” Munster said. “The goal is to close that gap.” 

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