The Mental Health Act – Understand Your Rights
When you or a family member is suffering from a mental health-related illness, it is important to have an awareness of the rights that can allow vulnerable individuals to access the treatment that they need. If you are a formal patient in a mental health facility, then you can lose the right to leave the hospital freely and understanding what you can and can’t do until you are well is more important than ever.
What is the Mental Health Act?
The Mental Health Act (1983) is the main piece of legislation that lays out the rights of individuals with a mental health disorder. Those who are detained under the Mental Health Act need urgent treatment for a mental health disorder and are considered to be at risk of harming either themselves or others. In an emergency where it seems likely that this could happen, the police are granted the power to enter an individual’s home, if need be by force, under a Section 135 warrant. They will then be taken to a place of safety where they can be assessed and potentially kept there for up to 24 hours. If the police find an individual in a public place who is in need of mental health care or control, then they can take them to a place of safety (usually a hospital or a police station) and detain them there under Section 136. If the individual is already in hospital, then certain nurses can stop them leaving under Section 5(4) until a doctor can assess the patient can make a decision about whether to detain them or not.
What role can the courts play in someone being detained under the Mental Health Act?
If an individual is going to the criminal court to be tried for committing a crime and a heath professional reports that they are not mentally well enough, then the court can order that they are detained in a hospital. This could be whilst awaiting trial, or as part of your sentence.
Can treatment be given for a mentally ill individual against their wishes?
A medical professional should always seek the informed consent of a patient before giving them treatment for physical or mental health. However, the Metal Health Act says that in some circumstances, medical professionals can administer treatment without consent. The Mental Health Act only authorises treatment for mental disorder, so no one would be physically treated under the act unless the physical problem is a symptom or underlying cause of the mental disorder.
What rights does a mentally unwell individual have whilst they are being detained in hospital?
If someone is being detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act, they still have certain rights, and they will also still have rights when they leave the hospital. These may include rights to:
- Be give full information about why they have been sectioned, and what it means to be in hospital
- Appeal against their sectioning to a Mental Health Tribunal
- Get help and support from their advocate
- Meet with the hospital managers
- Complain if they believe that they are not receiving the right treatment within their rights
- Correspondence and visitors, as well as some telephone access
- Receive care once you have left hospital
Do family members have any rights?
Family members of a mentally ill individual may have certain rights related to the sectioning. If they are their nearest relative (NR), they have a right to:
- Apply for the mentally ill individual to be sectioned
- Receive information about their relative’s sectioning
- Discharge their relative if they are sectioned, and apply to the Mental Health Tribunal if this is refused
- Object to their relatives sectioning
How can a stay in hospital under the Mental Health Act end?
When someone has been sectioned, the Mental Health Act gives them the right to be given information on ways in which their sectioning can end. This may also be referred to as them being ‘discharged’ from their section, although they can stay in hospital even if their section has ended. This is referred to as being an informal patient. If someone wants to be discharged and they are detained under sections 2 or 3, they can:
- Ask their responsible clinician (RC) to discharge them
- Ask for a meeting with the hospital managers and ask them to discharge them
- Ask their nearest relative to discharge them
- Apply to the Mental Health Tribunal to be discharged
They could also be discharged from hospital onto a community treatment order (CTO). This means that they won’t have to stay in hospital but there may be some conditions to this, for instance that they may have to live in a certain place or they might have to go somewhere for medical treatment.
Getting the right legal help
If you or a close relative have been detained under the Mental Health Act, then the right legal counsel can assure that you have both the right legal support and also have access to the best healthcare. One of our trained mental health lawyers can help you throughout your experience, and make sure that the individual who is being detained under the Mental Health Act is always supported and is fully aware of all of their rights.
All advice is correct at time of publication.