Mental Health Act 1983
Provides answers to the most common questions you may have about your rights under the Mental Health Act. Includes links to further information and support.
Mental Health Act FAQs
This page gives answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about your rights under the Mental Health Act.
The UK Government is changing the Mental Health Act.
In certain circumstances you can be made to go to hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act, even if you don't want to. There are many terms you might hear used to describe this, including:
- Compulsory admission to hospital
- Detention or involuntary detention
- Being a formal patient
- Being sectioned
Before you can be lawfully sectioned, you'll need to be assessed by a team of health professionals, to make sure that it's necessary.
To find out more about when it may be legal to section you, what different sections mean and what your rights are in hospital, see our legal pages on sectioning.
If you're in hospital as an informal patient (also known as voluntary patient), you're free to leave the hospital or ward should you choose. But if your care team is worried about you, they can detain you temporarily so that a decision can be made about whether you should be sectioned. When these powers are used:
- You're no longer free to leave and
- You'll need to stay in hospital for assessment to see if you need to be detained under section 2 or section 3
Yes, the police may be involved if:
- You are suspected of committing an offence, or
- They need to take you to a place of safety under sections 135 or 136
If you are going to the criminal court to be tried for committing a crime and the court receives reports from a health professional that you're unwell enough, it can order you to be detained in hospital:
- While you're awaiting trial, and/or
- As part of your sentence
A medical professional should always seek your informed consent before giving you treatment for your physical or mental health.
But the Mental Health Act says that in some circumstances, you can receive treatment from medical professionals for your mental disorder without your consent. This can happen when you are detained under certain sections of the Act.
The Mental Health Act only authorises treatment for mental disorder, so you couldn't be given treatment without your consent for a physical illness under the Act, unless the physical problem is a symptom or cause of a mental disorder.
To find out more about when it's legal to treat you against your wishes, see our legal pages on consent to treatment.
Your family members may have certain legal rights related to your sectioning. For example, your family member might be your nearest relative. Your nearest relative has certain rights and responsibilities, including a right to:
- Apply for you to be sectioned
- Receive information about your sectioning
- Discharge you if you're sectioned and apply to the Mental Health Tribunal if this is refused
- Object to your sectioning
To find out more about who can be your nearest relative and what they are able to do for you, see our legal pages on the nearest relative.
In England and Wales, if you're in hospital because you've been sectioned you have the right to get support from an advocate called an Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA). In Wales, you also have the right to get support from an advocate if you're in hospital as a voluntary patient and haven't been sectioned.
An IMHA can help you do a range of things, including:
- Explain your rights and help you exercise them
- Express your views
- Make a complaint
- Apply to a Mental Health Tribunal
- Access legal advice
If you've been sectioned, the Mental Health Act gives you the right to be given information on ways in which your section can end. This may also be called being 'discharged' from your section. You can still stay in hospital even if your section has ended. This is called being an informal patient.
If you want to be discharged and you're under sections 2 or 3, you can:
- Ask your responsible clinician to discharge you
- Ask for a meeting with the hospital managers and ask them to discharge you
- Ask your nearest relative to discharge you
- Apply to the Mental Health Tribunal to be discharged
When the hospital discharges you they may put you onto a community treatment order (CTO). This means you won't have to stay in hospital but there might be some conditions to this. For example, you may have to live in a certain place or go somewhere specific for medical treatment.
To find out more about being discharged from hospital, see our legal pages on:
You may have a right to free aftercare under section 117 of the Mental Health Act after you've left hospital.
This is the help you can get for free in the community, including healthcare, social care and supported accommodation. You can only get this if you've been on certain sections, for example section 3.
Place of safety
This is a locally agreed place where the police may take you to be assessed. It's usually a hospital but can be your home. A police station should only be used in an emergency.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
When the Mental Health Act talks about someone with mental health problems and whether or not they should be sectioned, it often uses the term 'mental disorder'. The Act says that this can include "any disorder or disability of mind".
Mental disorder can include:
- any mental health problem normally diagnosed in psychiatry
- certain learning disabilities.
Mental Health Tribunal (MHT)
This is a special court that deals with cases relating to the Mental Health Act 1983. The Tribunal decides whether you can be discharged from your section. It can sometimes make recommendations about matters such as hospital leave, transfer to another hospital, guardianship and community treatment orders (CTOs).
The court is made of a panel, which normally includes:
- a legally qualified chairperson
- a ‘lay member’ who has appropriate experience and qualifications in the area of mental health
- an independent psychiatrist, who will speak to you and examine you before the tribunal hearing in certain circumstances, and when you request to see them
Where you see a reference to the Mental Health Tribunal in this guide, it means:
- First Tier Tribunal (Mental Health), if you live in England, or
- Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales, if you live in Wales.
Responsible clinician (RC)
Certain decisions, such as applying for someone who is sectioned to go onto a community treatment order (CTO), can only be taken by the responsible clinician.
All responsible clinicians must be approved clinicians. They do not have to be a doctor, but in practice many of them are.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
Hospital managers (also known as Mental Health Act managers)
Hospital managers are an independent team of people in a hospital who make sure that the requirements of the Mental Health Act are properly applied. They have certain important responsibilities and can make decisions related to your detention.
In practice, most of the day-to-day decisions are taken by individuals authorised by the hospital managers to do so. This can include hospital staff. Decisions about discharge are normally delegated to a team of people who are independent of the hospital. You can apply to them to be discharged from your section and they will decide whether or not to discharge you.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
Community treatment order (CTO)
If you have been sectioned and treated in hospital under certain sections, your responsible clinician can put you on a CTO. This means that you can be discharged from the section and leave hospital, but you might have to meet certain conditions such as living in a certain place, or going somewhere for medical treatment. Sometimes, if you don't follow the conditions or you become unwell, you can be returned to hospital.
See our pages on CTOs for more information.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
This information was published in June 2022. We will revise it in 2025.
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