21 Ohio St. L.J. 1 (1960)
The Definition of Mental Illness

handle is hein.journals/ohslj21 and id is 11 raw text is: 01-110 STATE LAW JOURNAL
Volume 21                 Winter 1960                 Number 1
Mental illness is a medical concept, and so it would seem self-
evident that its definition should come from the medical profession
and not from either legislators or judges.
But mental illness is a phenomenon that the law does recognize
and that may have various legal effects. It may render a person
irresponsible for his criminal act; it may justify a court order for his
involuntary hospitalization; it may render him incompetent to make
a will or a binding contract; it may constitute grounds for divorce.
However, mental illness in and of itself does not have any of these
legal effects. There must be mental illness; but there is always a
second requirement, that the illness be of such form or degree as to
meet some legal criterion. In a will contest, where the question is
whether the testator was sane when he made his will, the question
is not merely whether he then had a medically recognized form of
mental illness. If not, then of course he was not insane in any sense.
But even if medical experts agree he was mentally ill, the law asks
a further question, which is, broadly, did his mental illness deprive
him of sufficient mind to know what he was doing? Did he know it
was a will he was executing; did he understand the nature and extent
of his property and his obligations toward those persons who are
related to him or who have some moral or legal claim upon him? In
a commitment proceeding, the question is somewhat different, namely,
is his mental condition such that for his own safety or the safety
of others he should be confined in a mental institution. In a criminal
case, the test is still different. Just what the criminal law test
should be has been the subject of a vast amount of debate. But every-
* Professor of Law, University of New Mexico.

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