Get help now Make a donation

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.

Free legal advice

  • You have a right to legal advice when you are arrested and before you are questioned.
  • You can either ask to see the duty solicitor or contact a specific legal adviser.
  • You do not have to pay for the advice at the police station.
  • The solicitor will tell you whether you can get legal aid for more advice.
  • Sometimes, you may be given legal advice over the telephone instead of in person.
  • Even if at first you say you do not want legal advice, you can change your mind later and tell the police.
  • This advice will be independent and given in private.

Rights in writing and in your first language

  • You have rights that the police must follow, which include having regular meals and how long you can stay in the police station. Read these rights here on the website.
  • These rights must be given to you in writing and in your language.

You are entitled to a free interpreter or signer

If you are D/deaf or English isn’t your first language you are entitled to a free interpreter or signer.

Tell someone where you are

  • You can ask the police to contact someone to know that you are at the police station (such as a friend or family member). You will not have to pay for this.
  • If you are not from the UK you can tell your embassy or consulate where you are. You should tell the police that you want them to be contacted.
  • You should also be interviewed with an interpreter if you are not able to understand English, or have hearing and speech difficulties.

Medical help

  • You should tell the police if you feel ill, need medicine or have an injury. They will arrange for a healthcare professional to see you free of charge.
  • You may be allowed to take your own medicine but the police will have to check first.
  • If you tell the healthcare professional that you have a mental health problem, they will decide whether you can stay in the police station and be questioned.
  • It is important that you tell them how you feel and whether you feel well enough to be questioned.

See the rules that the police must follow

  • The police have to follow rules which are written in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE 1984). There is guidance about the law in the PACE codes of practice.
  • These rules include when the police can stop and search and how they must record interviews.
  • One of the codes (PACE Code C) relates to how the police must treat you when you are in the police station. You can read more about Pace Code C on the website.
  • You can ask to see these codes while you are at the police station and you must be allowed to see them.

Have an appropriate adult with you

  • If you are ‘mentally vulnerable’, the police should find an appropriate adult for you.
  • An appropriate adult will protect your welfare and make sure that you understand the information.
  • They can ask for a legal adviser for you and will help you communicate with them and the police.
  • An appropriate adult is different to a legal adviser. A legal adviser will give you advice about the law and the crime that you have been accused of committing.
  • An appropriate adult could be a family member, friend, carer, social worker, health care professional, charity worker or a specialist. They could be paid or voluntary.
  • They are not bound by legal privilege, so that means anything you say to them in private is not confidential and they can be questioned as a witness by the police, or in court, about what was discussed.

What if I need support for my mental health?

It is important that you tell the police and professionals that you have a mental health problem so that you receive the right care and support. What kind of support you get will depend on your circumstances. For example, you may:

  • need to take medication regularly
  • have mental health difficulties (in which case the police must call an appropriate healthcare practitioner to assess whether you are fit to be interviewed or detained).

The custody officer or your solicitor can ask for an assessment by the Liaison and Diversion service. You can also ask for an assessment yourself.

You can find out more about Liaison and Diversion services from the NHS England website.


Jason has been accused of shoplifting. He was taken to a local police station. He told the custody officer that he has schizophrenia and needs to take regular medication. He was seen by a doctor who confirmed that he was well enough to be interviewed and made arrangements for him to receive his medication.

He also got legal advice from the duty solicitor and was supported by an appropriate adult.

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.

arrow_upwardBack to Top