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The Mental Health Act 1983

Explains what the Mental Health Act is, what it covers and what your rights are. Also includes links to further legal information and support.

What is the Mental Health Act 1983?

The Mental Health Act 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. But over half are in hospital without their agreement as formal patients. This is because they have been detained under the Mental Health Act, also known as being sectioned.

If you're 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 your rights when you're:

It also covers your family's rights when you're detained – see our pages on the nearest relative.

For more information see our page on Mental Health Act FAQs.

What are my rights under the Mental Health Act?

You still have certain rights when you're in hospital, and when you've left hospital. These usually include rights to:

  • Have information about your section and what it means to be in hospital
  • Appeal to a Mental Health Tribunal against your section
  • Get support from an advocate
  • Meet with the hospital managers
  • Make a complaint
  • Vote in elections
  • Write to people and have visitors, as well as some telephone access
  • Receive care after you've left hospital

To find out more about the rights you have under the Mental Health Act, see our legal pages on your rights if you're sectioned and leaving hospital.

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.

View this legal guide as a PDF (new window)

This information was published in June 2022. We will revise it in 2025.

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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