for better mental health

Understanding my rights - for young people

Information for young people to help you understand what rights are, what rights you have for your mental health and what to do if you feel like your rights aren't being listened to. 

This page is also available in Welsh (Cymraeg).

Understanding my rights

We all have rights.

When we talk about rights, we mean:

  • your rights to do things, like be involved in decisions about you
  • your rights to have things, like food, housing and healthcare
  • your right to be treated in a certain way, like to be protected from abuse.

It's important to understand what your rights are so you can make sure you're being treated fairly, and that you have the protection and support you need.

On this page we have information on:

What rights do I have?

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

These are just some of the rights you have:

  • everywhere – the right to your own beliefs or religion and the right to be protected from violence and abuse
  • at home – the right to a standard of living, such as money, food and housing that meets your needs
  • at school or college – the right to education even if you don't go to school, you're in hospital or youth custody
  • at work – the right to breaks, time off for holidays and to be kept safe
  • when receiving care – the right to the best possible healthcare and the right to have your personal information kept private by professionals.

If you live in England – you can find out more about the different rights you might have on the Law Stuff website.

If you live in Wales – you can find out more on The Children's Legal Centre website.

When might I have more or less rights?

Sometimes you might have slightly different rights if:

You're in care or have been in the past – if you live in England, you can find more information on the Coram Voice or Become websites. If you live in Wales, go to the Voices from Care Cymru website.

You're an unaccompanied asylum seeker – if you live in England, you can find more information on the Law Stuff website. If you live in Wales, visit the Children's Legal Centre website.

What rights do I have for my mental health?

You have lots of rights to do with your mental health. Here are some of them:

All personal information that professionals hold about you should be kept private. This means if you talk to health professionals, schools, social workers, advocates or employers about your mental health, it should stay between you and them, unless they tell you differently.

Sometimes your information might be shared: 

  • so you get a good level of care. For example, your doctor will write down what you tell them in your appointment. Other doctors who work at the same place will be able to see these notes, so if you have an appointment with a different doctor, you won't need to explain your story again.
  • so they can refer you to another service, like a specialist doctor. They should tell you if they're going to do this.
  • if they're worried that you or someone else could be in danger. Normally, they should tell you that they're going to do this, unless telling you would put someone else in danger.

If you're worried about confidentiality, you can always bring it up with the professional you're speaking to and they should tell you about the rules they have to follow.

You also have a right to see your personal information, like what your doctor has written on your medical notes.

To find out more about your right to confidentiality, you can visit the Anna Freud website.

If you have a disability or find learning at school difficult because of your mental health, you might have rights to extra support, 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.

If you think you would find this useful or you want to find out more, you can talk to your school or college to find out what support is available.

If you live in England, you could find more information on the Law Stuff website, or if you live in Wales, visit the Children's Legal Centre website.

You should always be involved in decisions about you, like:

  • the treatment and support you get
  • who knows about your mental health problem
  • the support you get at school.

Your views and opinions should be listened to by the people involved in your care, support and education.

If you have a mental health problem, you might have additional rights to stop you from being discriminated against. This means people shouldn't treat you unfairly because of your mental health.

This could be at school, work, or when you're receiving health or social care.

If you need to go into hospital for your mental health, there are rights about:

  • your decision to go in and leave
  • how you're treated when you stay there
  • continuing with your education
  • being able to talk to your family
  • the types of treatment you have.

Sometimes, you might not be able to make the decision about whether you go into hospital. This is called sectioning. Sectioning is where you are kept in hospital to keep yourself or someone else safe.

If you're sectioned, your rights might be different but your views and thoughts should still be listened to.

Visit the Young Minds website for more information and for real life stories about your rights in hospital.

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

  • you're not getting the treatment or support you want
  • you feel like you're not being treated the way you should by a professional
  • you don't agree with your diagnosis.

To find out more, see our section on what if my rights are being ignored.

Where do our rights come from?

Rights come from lots of different places.

Understanding where they come from can help you to find out what to do if they're being ignored.

Laws – most of our laws come from the UK and Welsh Government. These say what people in the UK can and can't do and what support they should have. They also say what people or organisations have responsibilities for us.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (known as the UNCRC) – this is a set of standards we follow in the UK that lists the rights that every child should have. These include the right to relax and play, to express yourself freely and to have an education. To find out more about the UNCRC, you could read a guide that Unicef has put together.

Policies and guidelines – all professionals like your doctor, child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) team, teachers and social workers, follow strict sets of rules. These are not laws but say how professionals should act and how you they should treat you.

How can I find out if I have a right to something?

You might not be sure whether you have a right to something, such as using your phone when you're staying in hospital.

Here's a few of the ways you can find out:

Ask the service or organisation if they have a policy about the things that they provide or responsibilities they have towards you. This might be your school, your doctor's surgery, or your local CAMHS services.

Look for information online. There are lots of websites where you can find information about your rights.

Childline – for general information about rights.

LawStuff – for information on a range of rights based topics for children and young people in England. They also offer a service where you can send them in your question and they will email you back.

Children's Legal Centre – for information on a range of rights based topics for children and young people in Wales.

Anna Freud – for information on your rights about confidentiality, treatment options, mental capacity, parental consent and sectioning.

Young Minds – for information about your rights while you're in hospital.

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 be really difficult, but there are things you can do, like:

Talk to a trusted adult – like your parent or teacher. They can talk things through with you and help you decide what to do next.

Get support from an advocate – advocates are people who can help you understand your rights, go to meetings with you, help get your voice heard and help you get the support you deserve. This could be a trusted friend or family member or it could be a professional advocate.

Where can I find a professional advocate?

To find an advocate, it might help to ask your doctor if they know any local advocacy services.

If you live in England – you could also contact VoiceAbility or POhWER who are charity organisations that offer free advocacy services.

If you live in Wales – you could contact the National Youth Advocacy Service.

Talk to the organisation – tell them what your right is and how what they've done has affected you. Your parents or advocate can help you do this.

Make a complaint – 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 or advocate can help you do this. Your parent or carer can also make the complaint for you if you want them to.

If you've tried these things and nothing has helped, you might want to speak to a solicitor. They can talk you through your options and tell you whether you or your family could take legal action. Visit the Law Society website for information about finding a solicitor.

This information was published in May 2020. We will revise it in 2022.

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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