Police and mental health
Explains when you may have contact with the police, what happens if you are arrested and what your rights are if you are taken to the police station.
The police can arrest you without a warrant if they suspect (reasonably) that you have committed an offence, or are about to commit one, and they need to arrest you to:
- prevent you causing injury to yourself or others or damaging property
- investigate the offence
- stop you from disappearing
- take your name or address if you refuse to tell them, or if they doubt (reasonably) you’ve given them your real name and address.
If you are arrested the police must:
- identify themselves as the police
- tell you that you’re being arrested
- tell you what crime they think you’ve committed
- explain why it is necessary to arrest you
- explain that you’re not free to leave.
What happens at the police station?
You will go to the custody area (suite). When you first see the custody officer:
- They will ask you some questions about yourself and will complete a custody record and a risk assessment.
- If they think that you are incapable of understanding the questions due to your mental health problem or other vulnerability they must:
- They must tell you that you are entitled to free legal advice there and then, or at any time during your detention, and they can call the duty solicitor (or you own solicitor if you have one).
- They will authorise your finger prints, DNA samples and your photograph being taken.
- They may authorise you to be searched, breathalysed or be given a urine drug screen test.
- They may authorise removal of clothing for forensic examination if relevant.
After seeing the custody officer you will be held in a cell or detention room. If you are considered to be vulnerable you should have frequent visits by the custody staff to check you are ok.
This is the solicitor or specialist legal adviser who will be available to give you advice at the time that you are taken to the police station. They are completely independent of the police and you do not have to pay for them to attend the police station. You are allowed to choose your own if you prefer.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
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.
See our pages on police and mental health for more information.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
Appropriate healthcare practitioner
This is the term used for the medical professional who is called to the police station if you need medical assessment or treatment.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
Liaison and Diversion
Liaison and Diversion services identify people who have mental health problems, a learning disability, substance misuse or other vulnerabilities when they first come into contact with the criminal justice system as suspects, defendants or offenders.
You should be assessed by someone from this service, who will:
- provide an immediate recommendation on your needs
- produce an assessment report that can be made available to criminal justice professionals
- contact a broad range of services to try to put treatment for your other needs in place.
Approved mental health professional (AMHP)
AMHPs are mental health professionals who have been approved by a local social services authority to carry out 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
- occupational therapists
This information was published in November 2017.
This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.