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22 Mental Health

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1. Introduction

2. What is the Mental Health Act for?

3. Who decides if I should be detained in hospital?

The decision must normally be made by two doctors and a third person, who must all agree that it is necessary for you to be detained.

At least one of the doctors must have special experience with mental disorders. And, if possible, one of the doctors should know you (for example, your GP).

The third person is usually an 'approved social worker' (ASW), who is a social worker with specialist training and experience in dealing with people with a mental disorder.

A close relative, called your 'nearest relative' can also apply for you to be detained, but this doesn't happen very often (see 'What powers does my family have?').

The two doctors and the approved social worker must assess your mental health needs and decide whether the conditions for detaining you are met. They should make sure that you have the chance to explain your views, in particular:

  • what help you think you need; and
  • what you think helps you to manage your mental health problems.

If you would like to have with you a friend or someone else to help you during the assessment, ask the approved social worker to contact them for you. However, in some cases the doctors and social worker may want to speak to you on your own. If you need an interpreter, one should be provided for you.

After assessing your mental health needs, the doctors and approved social worker must each make their own decision about whether you need to be detained in hospital.

You should be detained in hospital only if this is the best thing for you. If the doctors and the approved social worker decide that you don't need to be detained, the social worker should make other care arrangements for you.

They should make other care arrangements only after talking about it with you and with:

  • the doctors and other professionals responsible for your care;
  • your 'nearest relative' (as long as you agree to this); and
  • any person who gives you help and support (as long as you agree to this).

What about people who lack the capacity to agree to be detained?
Until recently, if you were not capable of deciding whether you were willing to be admitted to hospital to receive care and treatment for a mental disorder, you could still be admitted, without using the Mental Health Act, as long as you didn't object. However, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that this kind of admission can be the same as detention, which would breach your human rights. This is because in these cases there are no clear rules on who decides, and for what reason, that someone should be detained. It is likely that the government will now have to introduce rules to protect people who lack the capacity to decide whether they are willing to be admitted to hospital.

4. When can I be detained in hospital?

5. When can I be given compulsory treatment?

6. What treatment can I be given?

7. Who can discharge me from hospital?

8. What are my rights in hospital?

9. What if I am unhappy with my care and treatment?

10. Will I get help when I leave hospital?

11. What powers do the police have against people with mental health problems?

12. Mental health and The Human Rights Act

13. Terms used in mental health law

14. Further help

15. About this leaflet

This leaflet is published by the Legal Services Commission (LSC). It was written in association with Camilla Parker, and independent consultant specialising in mental health law and policy.

The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since they were printed so the information in them may be incorrect or out of date.

Leaflet Version: November 2019

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