When we write about the Mental Health Act 1983 in this guide, numbers of the relevant sections or parts of the Act are shown in bold. The final section explains legal and professional terms that you will come across in this information. More detailed legal briefings on nearest relative and supervised community treatment are also available.
The vast majority of people receiving treatment in psychiatric wards are in hospital on an informal basis and have usually agreed to come into hospital – they are called informal patients or voluntary patients.
About a quarter of people, however, are in hospital without their agreement. This is because they have been ‘sectioned’ (or ‘detained’) under the Mental Health Act 1983. They are called formal patients. If you are in hospital as a formal patient you will not be free to leave and will lose some other important rights available to informal patients. The majority of this information focuses on formal patients.