Explains the rights that you have if you are sectioned and detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983.
What are my rights if I'm sectioned?
The UK Government is changing the Mental Health Act.
If you are sectioned and detained in hospital, you have the following rights:
- Get leaflets with information when you arrive on the ward. If you are not given any leaflets straight away, you can ask the ward manager or a senior member of your care staff, or your independent mental health advocate (IMHA), to get them for you.
- Appeal against your section to the Mental Health Tribunal.
- See your sectioning papers. If you are not given a copy, and would like to see them, you should ask the ward staff or your IMHA to help you get them. You should be given these as a paper copy, although you may also be able to have an electronic copy emailed to you.
- Get help and support from an IMHA. They can help you understand the effects of your sectioning, or complain about anything that has happened while you are in hospital.
- See a copy of the Mental Health Act Code of Practice.
- Ask for a meeting with the hospital managers.
- Complain to the Care Quality Commission or, if you are in Wales, to the Healthcare Inspectorate.
- Correspondence from your solicitor and other people and to have visitors.
- Some telephone access.
- Vote. You still have the right to vote if you are sectioned (unless you were sent to hospital by a criminal court, or transferred from prison).
To vote, you must register on the electoral register as living either at your hospital address or at a recent home address. To do this you must apply to your local council. You cannot vote unless you are registered under an address where your local council can send you information about how and where to vote.
Once you have registered, you can also ask your local council for a postal vote, or you may be able to get permission to leave the hospital to vote, either accompanied by hospital staff or on your own.
Alternatively, you can have someone you can trust to vote on your behalf, called 'voting by proxy'.
Asking for information
While you are in hospital, you also have the right to ask for and be told information, such as:
- what section of the Mental Health Act you have been sectioned under, or your community treatment order (CTO)
- your rights to apply to a Mental Health Tribunal, and how to contact a mental health solicitor
- your right to see an IMHA, and how to get help from one
- your rights to be discharged from your section by your responsible clinician, the hospital managers, and your nearest relative
- the consent to treatment rules and when you can be given treatment against your wishes
- the rules about getting correspondence in hospital
Everything happened very quickly and she doesn't know anything about her rights, or what to expect, or how long she might have to stay in hospital. No one has been to visit her and she has not been able to phone anyone. She thinks she was given some information on the first day, but can't find it.
She tells the ward staff that she needs some help to find things out about her situation. A nurse says she will try and get an independent mental health advocate independent mental health advocate (IMHA) to help her. When Adena sees the IMHA, she helps her to:
- find a telephone to tell her friends what has happened
- get her the written information about her rights
Petra wants to get out of hospital because she thinks she should not have been sectioned. She has read the information she was given when she came into hospital.
She asks to see an IMHA, who explains about Petra's right to go to a Mental Health Tribunal to have her section lifted. As Petra is on a section 2, she will have to apply within the first 14 days. Petra realises she has the right to a mental health solicitor for the tribunal hearing for free, but she has to find one quickly. Her IMHA helps her to find details of a suitable solicitor, who agrees to come and see her on the ward.
Eli has been in hospital under a section 3 for 2 weeks. He finds out that his family has been to visit him but were told that they could not see him. After a few days some friends rang the ward to see if it was okay to visit him, but were told this wasn't a good idea at the moment.
Eli feels very angry that he wasn't told about this and can't understand why his friends and family were not allowed to visit him. He wants to complain about it and to find out what is going on.
If you want to find out the reasons why you have been sectioned, you can:
- Look at your medical notes and records. You could ask your IMHA to help you do this. To find out how to make a request to the hospital authorities to see your records, see our page on accessing your personal information.
- Ask your responsible clinician. Your responsible clinician should answer your questions about your mental health and your treatment honestly. They should also give you information about any medication you are made to take. This includes information about any side effects, why they have decided this treatment is the most suitable treatment for your mental health problem, how long the treatment might take and how long you might have to stay in hospital. If they say you have behaved in a way that has posed a risk to yourself or others, or has harmed your health, ask them to be specific about what behaviour they are talking about.
- Discuss your situation with ward staff. They might be able to explain what is written in your medical notes. You can also ask about anything that happens on the ward, such as ward rounds, how often your responsible clinician will come to see you and whether any other professionals will want to talk to you.
Toni is sectioned and is in hospital. She feels that the medication she is on is very strong and has a lot of side effects. It sometimes makes her feel dizzy and sick, and that the world is a bit unreal. She wonders whether anything can be done about it, like reducing the dose she is on.
She asks the ward staff if she can speak to her responsible clinician about it. They tell her when the responsible clinician will be coming, and whether it would be possible to ask her to come the next day.
Teri has asked to see her section papers and thinks that they are not correct. They say that before she was sectioned, she was found shouting and screaming in the middle of a busy road. She thinks this is an exaggeration of what actually happened.
She discusses the situation with her IMHA and whether she should complain about it. Her IMHA agrees to get her information about the complaints procedure, and to ask the AMHP who assessed her if she will come and see her. She also offers to help her to see her medical records.
When you first come into hospital, you will probably not be allowed to leave the ward while you are under section. The Mental Health Act gives the nursing staff and other health professionals the power to keep you on a locked ward.
If you want to leave the ward, you can ask your responsible clinician for permission to do this.
- You can ask them when they come to see you on a ward round or, if it is urgent, you could ask the ward staff to let them know that you need to see them because you need an answer urgently.
- Section 17 of the Mental Health Act says that they can allow you to leave the ward or the hospital for short periods of time, but they may ask you to keep to certain conditions, such as returning within a certain time.
- You will need to explain your reasons for wanting leave. If they need you to put any of the details in writing or they need to speak to anyone else about your leave, such as your family, carer or another professional, they should tell you this.
Sometimes you might be able to leave the ward accompanied by a member or members of the hospital staff – this is called escorted leave. But the hospital does not have a legal duty to agree to this. They may refuse you leave if they consider you or someone else would be at risk if you left the ward on your own.
If you are going to be on leave from hospital for more than 7 days, your responsible clinician should consider whether to use a community treatment order instead.
Lina's daughter is going to be eight years old next week. She does not understand why she can't see Lina on her birthday. Lina asks her responsible clinician if she can have leave from the ward so that she can go home and see her daughter. Her responsible clinician says she can, as long as her partner stays with her all the time, and brings Lina back to the ward in the evening.
If you are sectioned under sections 2, 3, 37 and certain other sections of the Mental Health Act, and your treatment is for your mental health problem and prescribed by your responsible clinician, legally it may be given to you without your consent. This may still happen even if you physically resist being given the treatment.
If you are sectioned under sections 4, 5, 35, 135 and 136, or you are under Mental Health Act guardianship or conditional discharge, you have the right to refuse treatment for your mental health problem, but you may be given treatment in an emergency.
See our information on consent to treatment to find out more.
It may not be possible to challenge the health professionals' opinion during the time that you are being sectioned.
But once you have been sectioned and are in hospital, there are several ways of getting discharged:
- Ask your responsible clinician to discharge you.
- Ask your hospital managers to consider discharging you.
- Ask your nearest relative to discharge you.
- Apply to the Mental Health Tribunal to be discharged.
If you want to challenge the fact that you have been sectioned at all, you will need to go to the High Court (not the Mental Health Tribunal), and show:
- specific reasons why you should not have been sectioned
- medical evidence for your opinion.
For more information see our pages on leaving hospital.
Yes, your independent mental health advocate can help you to make a complaint. You can complain to the hospital or their regulator which is the Care Quality Commission (in England) or the Healthcare Inspectorate (in Wales).
For more information see our pages on complaining about health and social care.
When you are no longer under a section and leave hospital, you have the following rights:
- The right to be free from discrimination because of your mental health history and to take action if this happens – see our information on disability discrimination to find out your rights under the Equality Act.
- The right to vote, as long as you are well enough to decide between candidates, and you are registered on your local council's electoral register at your home address or another address.
- The right to travel abroad. You have the right to travel out of the UK, but some countries have restrictions on accepting people with a history of mental health problems. This is because the Equality Act, which protects you from discrimination in the UK, does not apply abroad. Each country will have different rules on this. So you will have to check with the embassy of the country you are planning to visit whether you will have trouble getting a visa and whether they are likely to ask for information about your mental health history.
- The right to drive. You have the right to drive, but if you are diagnosed with certain severe mental health conditions and taking certain types of medication, your driving licence may be temporarily suspended. For more information, visit the DVLA website and see our information on fitness to drive.
Aftercare services or care plans
You should be told if have the right to aftercare services after you leave hospital, and whether these are likely to be free. This conversation should happen before you leave hospital.
Or you may have a care plan with a right to the services on the care plan. But this may be means-tested, so you might be asked to contribute something towards your services. You should be invited to discuss your care plan.
See our pages on leaving hospital for more information.
Independent mental health advocate (IMHA)
- You have a right to an IMHA if you are:
detained in hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act, but not if you are under sections 4, 5, 135 and 136
- under Mental Health Act guardianship, conditional discharge and community treatment orders (CTOs)
- discussing having certain treatments, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
In Wales, voluntary patients can also have an IMHA.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
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.
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.
See our pages on sectioning for more information.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
This is where you are discharged from hospital but will have to follow some conditions, such as living at a particular place or meeting healthcare professionals. If you break these conditions, you can be recalled to hospital.
You can 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.
This is where someone called a 'guardian' is appointed instead of being sectioned and kept in hospital. Your guardian could be a person or a local authority.
You can only be placed under guardianship if it's necessary for your welfare or to protect other people. Your guardian has the power to make certain decisions about you and to make conditions that you will be asked to keep to, such as where you live.
Guardianship lasts for up to six months and can be renewed: initially for a further six months, and then for a year at a time. You can appeal to the Mental Health Tribunal once in each of these periods.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
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
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 health disorder and need treatment. You can only be kept in hospital if certain conditions are met.
See our pages on the Mental Health Act for more information.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
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
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
The nearest relative 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 your nearest relative. This can sometimes be changed.
See our pages on the nearest relative for more information.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
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, such as visiting rights and the use of seclusion.
If a health professional doesn’t follow the Code, you can make a complaint.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
This information was published in July 2020. We will revise it in 2023.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.