Mental Health Act 1983

An overview of your rights under the Mental Health Act. Includes FAQs, explanations of legal terms and links to further information and support.


About the MHA 1983

The Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983 is the law in England and Wales which was updated in 2007. It tells people with mental health problems what their rights are regarding:

  • assessment and treatment in hospital
  • treatment in the community
  • pathways into hospital, which can be civil or criminal

Many people who receive inpatient treatment on psychiatric wards have agreed to go into hospital as informal patients (also known as voluntary patients). However, over half are in hospital without their agreement as formal patients. This is because they have been detained under the Mental Health Act (often called being sectioned).

If you are a formal patient you lose certain rights, including the right to leave hospital freely, so if you're in this situation it's really important to know your rights under the Mental Health Act.

For a list of legal terms and definitions you might need to know, see our legal glossary page.

What does the Mental Health Act cover?

The Mental Health Act is divided up into lots of different sections. These contain information on:

(See our page of Mental Health Act FAQs for more information.)

What other laws do I need to know about?

As a person with a mental health problem living in England or Wales, these are some other key pieces of legislation which set out some of your rights and protect you from discrimination:

You can find more information on your rights in different situations on our other pages on your legal rights.

Where can I get legal support?

For further legal information you can contact:

You may also be legally entitled to an advocate - someone who can help you understand your rights and make your voice heard. (See our page on statutory advocacy for more information.)

If you're looking for information in an accessible format for people with learning disabilities, you can find a series of Easy Read factsheets on your rights under the Mental Health Act on the NHS Choices website.

This information was published in November 2018. We will revise it in 2020.

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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