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Understanding my rights – for 11-18 year olds

Information for young people on rights related to your mental health and what to do if you feel like your rights are being ignored.

Do I have rights for my mental health?

You have lots of rights related to your mental health. Some rights might relate directly to your experience of mental healthcare. Other rights apply in lots of situations.

It's important to understand what rights you have, to make sure you're being properly supported and treated fairly.

This page explains different rights which can relate to your mental health and what to do if someone doesn't take your rights seriously.

We need more awareness of our rights.

Where do rights come from?

Different rights can exist for lots of different reasons, but they mainly come from laws, policies and guidelines.

Most laws come from the UK and Welsh governments. Laws say things like:

  • What we can and can't do
  • What support we should have
  • Which people or organisations have responsibilities for us

Policies and guidelines are not laws. They say how professionals and organisations should act and how they should treat us. Some organisations can choose not to follow policies in some cases, but they should have a good reason why they don't.

Just because you don't have a legal right to something, that doesn't mean that your needs aren't as great or your experience isn't as bad.

Which rights are relevant to my mental health?

We all share lots of the same rights. But we might also have different rights depending on things like our age, needs and situation. You might not realise it, but rights are part of everyday life.

Whether our mental health is involved or not, there are basic rights that we should have in any setting. But in specific mental health settings, we might have slightly different rights or less rights.

For example, if you're sectioned for your mental health, you'll have some special rights. These recognise that being in hospital can be a scary time and offer you some extra protection.

This information covers:

Your right to confidentiality

All personal information that professionals hold about you and your mental health should usually be kept private. This is called confidentiality.

This means if you talk to health professionals, schools, social workers, advocates or employers about your mental health, it should usually stay between you and them, unless they tell you why not.

While your right to confidentiality is very important, sometimes confidential information about your mental health might need to be shared.

When can people share my mental health information?

You might feel worried that your parents or carers will find out something you didn't want them to know. Or maybe you're concerned that a teacher knows more about your mental health problem than you want them to.

Find out more about your right to confidentiality in different situations related to mental health.

When I was looking up ways to help myself, I was too afraid of telling anyone the extent to which I was struggling because I didn't want my parents to find out.

Your right to not be discriminated against

If your mental health problem counts as a disability, you have extra rights to protect you from discrimination.

Your mental health problem counts as a disability if it affects your daily life in a serious way and is likely to continue for a long time.

If a service or organisation treats you unfairly because of a disability, which in this case would be your mental health problem, this might be discrimination.

Knowing what your rights are is really important so you can tell someone if you're not getting what you should be.

Your protection from discrimination is a right that comes from a law called the Equality Act 2010. You have this right no matter whether you're at school, college, work, or when you're receiving health or social care in any setting.

It is against the law to unfairly discriminate against someone. You have the right to challenge discrimination and make a complaint if you experience it. This includes other types of discrimination, not just disability from mental health.

Your rights at school, college or work

If your mental health problem counts as a disability, you might have the right to a type of support called reasonable adjustments. This an extra right on top of your general rights that protect you from discrimination.

Reasonable adjustments are changes that places like schools, colleges, universities and workplaces must make for you if your disability makes it harder for you to do the same things as people who aren't disabled.

For example, for a mental health problem this might include changes like:

  • A safe place to go at lunch time and between lessons
  • Extra help from a teacher or assistant
  • Extra time to take exams or tests
  • Leaving work a little bit early to avoid busy streets at peak time

Talk to your school, college or employer to find out what reasonable adjustments are available. Not everywhere will offer the same type of support and not all adjustments count as ‘reasonable’, for example if they might cost a lot of money.

My teachers understood if I needed to leave class at certain points to get support from school counselling, or if I was a little late or struggling.

Your right to fair healthcare, treatment and support

In most healthcare settings, you have a right to be involved in decisions about your treatment and care. This includes mental health support from your doctor, from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), or a different service like Adult Mental Health Services (AMHS).

The people involved in your mental health treatment and support should listen to your views and opinions. For information about things that could go wrong, see our pages on problems with your doctor, problems I might face at CAMHS and problems with moving from CAMHS to AMHS.

I didn't know at the time that I could change my therapist. I didn't know what to do, as my parents liked my therapist.

Your rights as an informal patient in hospital

While your general rights to fair healthcare, treatment and support shouldn't change, if you go into hospital for mental health as an informal patient, you have also some rights related to:

  • Your decision to go in and leave
  • How you're treated when you stay there
  • Continuing your education, depending on your age
  • Being able to talk to your family and friends
  • The types of treatment you have

Your rights in hospital

What happens when I go into hospital for my mental health?

Your rights when you're sectioned

Sometimes, you might not be able to make your own decision about going into hospital. Instead of being an informal patient, you might be sectioned. Sectioning is when you are kept in hospital to keep yourself or someone else safe.

If you're sectioned, your rights might look different but people should still listen to your thoughts and views. You should still have most of your general rights related to fair healthcare, treatment and support. The main differences are that under certain sections, doctors can treat you against your will and you are not free to leave. If doctors want to do this, there are very strict laws they have to follow.

Being sectioned

How could my rights change if I'm sectioned?

I didn't realise I still had a right to have my opinions heard on things like treatment or what was happening to me, even while it meant doctors had the final say.

What if my rights are being ignored?

Sometimes things go wrong and we don't get the things we have a right to. This can feel really difficult, but there are things that you can do:

Can I make a complaint?

If you're unhappy with your mental health treatment or support, you usually have the right to complain. For example, if:

  • You're not getting the type of treatment or support you want
  • You feel like a professional is treating you unfairly or discriminating against you
  • You don't agree with your diagnosis

Every organisation or service should have a complaints process. You can ask them to talk you through this process and how to make your complaint. Your parent, carer, guardian or advocate can help you with this, or make the complaint for you if you want them to.

Understanding complaints

Do you need more information about when you can make a complaint?

Can I get help from an advocate?

Advocates are people who can help you understand your rights and get your voice heard. They can go to meetings with you and help you get the support you deserve. An advocate could be a trusted friend or family member, or a professional.

If rights related to your mental health are not being respected, a professional advocate can talk you through your options. They can also give you advice on how to find a solicitor to discuss legal action.

Understanding advocacy

Get information about finding an advocate as well as advocating for yourself.

Advocates know the system better than you and know what's going on. They're up on medical language and know how to explain what the doctors and nurses are saying in a way that you can understand.


Where to find out more about your rights

You might want more information on rights, or you might feel that you need to take action on a situation where someone didn't respect your rights.

Our page of useful contacts for young people has a section on contacts for legal rights and advocacy support.

If you want to learn more about your rights as a young person, head back to our legal rights hub.

This information was published in April 2024. We will revise it in 2027.

The quotes on this page are from young people we spoke to while making this information. They've given us their consent to use their quotes in our information. The words, experiences and opinions in the quotes are not related to the young people shown in any of the photographs we use.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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