A new study by researchers of UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has found that more and more Americans are held against their will and have been forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation that lasts from a few days to weeks or even years.

The study, published online in the journal Psychiatric Services, has shown that long-term involuntary psychiatric detentions have risen sharply in the last decade, in nearly half of U.S. states.

Lead author of the study Dr. David Cohen said, “This is the most controversial intervention in mental health—you’re deprived of liberty, can be traumatized and then stigmatized—yet no one could tell how often it happens in the United States. We saw the lack of data as a social justice issue, as an accountability issue.”

Every state has its own governing laws of psychiatric detentions. The laws mention that people who have not been accused of a crime but may pose a danger to themselves or others and those who cannot take care of themselves due to mental illness or drug abuse can be detained in an authorized mental health facility, according to Dr. Cohen said.

Mental health experts may take several days to evaluate a person and detention could be extended as per their discretion.

Dr. Cohen explained, “If you think that coercion is necessary in mental health, then a rise in detention rates may be welcome news, a sign that society is doing whatever it takes to help people in crisis and keep order. But if you think that coercion is punishment, that we need services to prevent or defuse crises in families and society before they get out of control, then a rise is a bad sign.”

The most common trigger for psychiatric detention is a suicidal threat, according to Dr. Cohen, who also explained that such detentions involve law enforcement personnel.

“The process can involve being strip-searched, restrained, secluded, having drugs forced on you, losing your credibility,” Dr. Cohen added. “For people already scarred by traumatic events, an involuntary detention can be another trauma.”

The suicidal rate is high among people who are released from mental health centers or hospitals. However, it is unclear whether such kind of detention plays a key role in suicide.

Gi Lee, the co-lead author of the study, said, “These studies have mostly focused on subjective experiences of psychiatric detention, which are important to understand. However, not much is known about more objective outcomes of psychiatric detention—on employment, education, contact with the criminal and juvenile justice systems, and others.”

“Greater transparency in data would not only lead to a better understanding of the epidemiology of psychiatric detentions in the U.S.,” Lee added, “but could help determine to what extent commitment is a last resort.”

The article originally appeared on Medical Xpress.