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.

Your stories

How to help someone who's been sectioned

Harriet from our information team shares ways to help someone who's been detained under the Mental Health Act.

Mind Info team
Posted on 07/03/2017

How the Mind Legal Line helped me

Susan blogs about how the Mind Legal Line helped her when her mother developed psychosis and was sectioned.

Posted on 21/04/2015

The night I spent in a cell

Claire blogs about why a police cell was the last place she needed to be during a mental health crisis.

Posted on 27/11/2014

Terms you need to know

You can use the table below to find brief definitions of terms which you may need to know. Many definitions also include links to sources of further information.


Appropriate adult

If you are held by the police and they realise, or are told, that you have a mental health problem, you have the right to be accompanied by an appropriate adult.

They should be an adult who is independent of the police, such as a member of your family or a mental health worker, but they cannot be your solicitor. You may be asked if you have a friend or family member you would like to ask or it could be a professional.

An appropriate adult should:

  • make sure that you get a solicitor
  • request that you are seen by a doctor
  • help you to communicate with the police
  • be present if you are questioned about an offence

(For more information, see our legal pages on the police and mental health.)

Appropriate treatment (or appropriate medical treatment)

This means medical treatment for your mental health problem that is:

  • suitable for you
  • available
  • takes into account the nature and degree of your mental health problem and your individual circumstances

Approved clinician

A mental health professional who has certain responsibilities related to your healthcare. They are approved to do this by the Department of Health (England) or by the Welsh Ministers (Wales).

Approved clinicians may be:

  • doctors
  • psychologists
  • nurses
  • occupational therapists
  • social workers

Some decisions under the Mental Health Act, such as deciding on your medication or giving you permission to leave the ward or hospital, can only be taken by approved clinicians.

Approved mental health professional (AMHP)

AMHPs are mental health professionals who have been approved by a local social services authority to carry out certain duties under the Mental Health Act. They are responsible for coordinating your assessment and admission to hospital if you are sectioned.

They may be:

  • social workers
  • nurses
  • occupational therapists
  • psychologists


An attorney is a person over the age of 18 whom you have appointed to make decisions on your behalf about your welfare and/or your property and financial affairs. You need an attorney if you are unable to make such decisions yourself. If you do not have the capacity to appoint an attorney, the Court of Protection will appoint a deputy to perform this role.

  • A health and welfare attorney makes decisions about things like your daily routine, your medical care, where you live and, if you specially request this, whether you should have life-sustaining treatment.
  • A property and financial affairs attorney makes decisions about things like paying bills, collecting benefits and selling your home.


'Capacity' means the ability to understand information and make decisions about your life. Sometimes it can also mean the ability to communicate decisions about your life.

If you do not understand the information and are unable to make a decision about your care, for example, you are said to lack capacity about something.

(For more information see our legal pages on the Mental Capacity Act 2005.)

Care Act 2014

This is the law which sets out the local authorities’ duties in relation to assessing people’s needs and their eligibility for care and support (adult social care), including carers who need support. It applies in England only.

Care coordinator

A care coordinator is the main point of contact and support if you need ongoing mental health care.

They keep in close contact with you while you receive mental health care and monitor how that care is delivered – particularly when you’re outside of hospital.

They are also responsible for carrying out an assessment to work out your health and social care needs under the care programme approach (CPA).

A care coordinator could be any mental health professional, for example:

  • nurse
  • social worker
  • other mental health worker

This is decided according to what is most appropriate for your situation.

A care coordinator usually works as part of the community mental health team.

Community mental health team (CMHT)

CMHTs support people with mental health problems living in the community, and also their carers. The team may include:

  • a social worker
  • a community psychiatric nurse (CPN)
  • a psychologist
  • an occupational therapist
  • a counsellor
  • a community support worker

Community treatment order (CTO)

If you have been sectioned and treated in hospital under certain sections, your responsible clinician (RC) can apply for you to be put 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
  • going somewhere for medical treatment

For more information about what a community treatment order is, how it affects you and how you can change or end it, see our legal pages on community treatment orders (CTOs).

Conditional discharge

This is where you are discharged from hospital into the community by a tribunal or the Secretary of State for Justice, but you have to meet certain conditions. If you break these conditions, you can be recalled to hospital by the Secretary of State for Justice.

You will only be put under a conditional discharge if you have been:

  • sectioned by a court under certain sections of the Mental Health Act, and have been charged with a crime, and you are a restricted patient under a restriction order, or
  • transferred to hospital from prison under the Mental Health Act and you are a restricted patient under a restriction direction

Court of Protection

The Court of Protection makes decisions and appoints deputies to act on your behalf if you are unable to make decisions about your personal health, finance or welfare.

Data Protection Act 2018

The Data Protection Act 2018 is the law that gives you rights to look at and have copies of information held about you by various organisations and agencies.


A person is detained if they are being kept in hospital under section and are not free to leave.


Displacement is where you change your nearest relative (NR). The process of changing the nearest relative is often known as ‘displacement proceedings’. Your nearest relative can be displaced if you or the local authority have concerns about the way that they are behaving.

Equality Act 2010

This is the law that explains:

  • what behaviour counts as unlawful discrimination
  • who has a right to challenge discrimination

(For more information on the Equality Act 2010, see our legal pages on disability discrimination.)

Escorted leave

This is where you are allowed to leave the ward accompanied by a member or members of the hospital staff. Your responsible clinician (RC) grants you permission to leave the ward under section 17 of the Mental Health Act.

Formal patient

A formal patient is someone who is being detained in hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act, and is therefore not free to leave.


This is where someone called a guardian is appointed to help you live as independently as possible in the community, instead of being sectioned and kept in hospital.

You would be placed under guardianship if your mental health problem meant that it would be difficult for you to avoid danger or people taking advantage of you. Your guardian has the power to make certain decisions about you and to make conditions that you will be asked to keep to.

Hospital managers (also known as Mental Health Act managers)

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.

Human Rights Act 1998

In the UK, our human rights are protected by law. This law is called the Human Rights Act 1998.

(For more information, see our legal pages on the Human Rights Act 1998.)

Independent mental health advocate (IMHA)

An IMHA is an advocate specially trained to help you find out your rights under the Mental Health Act and help you while you are detained. They can listen to what you want and speak for you.

You have a right to an IMHA if you are:

In Wales, voluntary patients can also have an IMHA.

(For more information, see our pages on IMHAs (England) and IMHAs (Wales).)

Judicial review

This is a type of court procedure where a judge reviews a public authority’s decision, policy, practice, act or failure to act, and decides whether it is lawful or not.

If it is not lawful, the court may cancel the decision or action (‘quash’ it), and require the public authority to reconsider it, lawfully. The court can order the authority to do or not do something.

Legal aid

Legal aid is financial support which can help meet the costs of legal advice, family mediation and representation in a court or tribunal. You can find out more about legal aid on the UK government website. You can also contact Civil Legal Advice to find out whether you're eligible.

Litigation friend

A litigation friend is someone who can take your place in legal proceedings, if you lack capacity to take part yourself. For example, the litigation friend could instruct solicitors on behalf of you, or speak to the judge directly on your behalf. A litigation friend could be a family member, a friend, or the Official Solicitor.

Medical treatment

In the Mental Health Act this means medical treatment that is used to relieve the signs and symptoms of your mental health condition, or to stop it from getting worse. It includes:

  • nursing
  • psychological intervention and specialist mental health habilitation (learning skills)
  • rehabilitation (relearning skills)
  • care

Mental Capacity Act 2005

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 is the law that tells you what you can do to plan ahead in case you can't make decisions for yourself, how you can ask someone else to make decisions for you and who can make decisions for you if you haven't planned ahead.

(For more information, see our legal pages on the Mental Capacity Act 2005.)

Mental disorder

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 defines this as “any disorder or disability of mind” (section 1).

Mental disorder can include:

  • any mental health problem normally diagnosed in psychiatry
  • learning disabilities, if the disability makes you act in a way which may seem "abnormally aggressive" or "seriously irresponsible"

Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA)

This is a law that applies to England and Wales which allows people to be detained in hospital (sectioned) if they have a mental disorder and need treatment. You can only be kept in hospital if certain conditions are met.

(For more information, see our legal page about the Mental Health Act 1983.)

Mental Health Act administrator

The administrator works in the hospital and deals with collecting and keeping the section or community treatment order (CTO) papers safe. They make sure that procedures are followed – like making sure you are given the right information and arranging hearings. 

Mental Health Act Code of Practice

This tells health professionals how they should follow the Mental Health Act. It is not law, so it cannot be enforced by going to court, but health professionals should follow it unless there is a good reason not to.

The Code covers some areas not specifically mentioned in the Mental Health Act 1983, such as visiting rights and the use of seclusion.

If a health professional doesn’t follow the Code, you can make a complaint.

Mental Health Tribunal (MHT)

This is a special court that deals with cases relating to the Mental Health Act. The Tribunal decides whether you can be discharged from your section and can somtimes 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 person’ 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 on Mind's website, it means:

  • First Tier Tribunal (Mental Health), if you live in England, or
  • Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales, if you live in Wales

Nearest relative (NR)

This is a family member who has certain responsibilities and powers if you are detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act. These include the right to information and to discharge in some situations.

The law sets out a list to decide who will be the nearest relative. This can sometimes be changed.

(For more information see our legal pages on the nearest relative.

Parental responsibility

This is a legal term which means that a person has rights and responsibilities towards a child.


This is defined in the Mental Health Act as a person suffering or appearing to be suffering from mental disorder.

Personal Information

Information which relates to you in such a way that you can be identified from the information.

(For more information on your rights regarding your personal information, see our legal pages on my personal information.)

Place of safety

A locally agreed place where the police may take you to be assessed, usually a police station or a hospital. A police station should normally only be used in an emergency.


This means that you can be returned to hospital. It applies to you if you're on section 17 leave, on a community treatment order or have been conditionally discharged from hopistal.

If you're on a CTO you can be recalled for up to 72 hours if the responsible clinician thinks that:

  • you need medical treatment in hospital for your mental disorder, and 
  • there would be risk of harm to your health or safety or to others if you are not recalled.

You must meet both criteria.

Registered medical practitioner

A qualified doctor, for example a GP or psychiatrist.


In this context, this means that you are sent to hospital by the court either before or after trial for medical examination. This is so a medical report on your mental condition can be prepared.

Responsible clinician (RC)

This is the approved clinician in charge of your care and treatment while you are sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Certain decisions, such as applying for someone who is sectioned to go onto a CTO, can only be taken by the responsible clinician. See our pages on CTOs for more information.

All responsible clinicians must be approved clinicians (AC). An AC could be a doctor, psychologist, nurse, occupational therapist or social worker.


This is a legal definition which means that your community treatment order (CTO) has ended and that you are detained under the original section, for example section 3.

Second opinion appointed doctor (SOAD)

This is an independent doctor appointed by the Care Quality Commission in England or by the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales. You need his or her approval to be given or continue to be given certain forms of medical treatment under the Mental Health Act.

(For more information see our legal pages on agreeing to treatment.)


Being 'sectioned' means that you are kept in hospital under the Mental Health Act. There are different types of sections, each with different rules to keep you in hospital. The length of time that you can be kept in hospital depends on which section you are detained under.

(For more information see our legal pages on sectioning.)

Section 12 approved doctor

A doctor trained and qualified in the use of the Mental Health Act, usually a psychiatrist. They may also be a responsible clinician (RC), if the responsible clinician is a doctor.

Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014

This is the law which sets out in one place the local authorities’ duties in relation to assessing people’s needs and their eligibility for care and support (child and adult social care), including carers who need support. It applies in Wales only.

Supervised community treatment (SCT)

You can be under supervised community treatment if you are put under a community treatment order (CTO).

For more information about what a community treatment order is, how it affects you and how you can change or end it, see our legal pages on community treatment orders (CTOs).

Voluntary patient (also known as informal patient)

These are people who are staying in a psychiatric hospital but are not detained under the Mental Health Act. They should be able to come and go from the hospital within reason and are able to discharge themselves if they decide to go home. See our Voluntary patients section for further information.

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

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