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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?

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?

There are several types of people who can discharge you from your detention, in some circumstances.

The responsible medical officer (RMO)
Your responsible medical officer can discharge you at any time. They should discharge you as soon as it is clear that you no longer need to be detained in hospital.

Hospital managers
Hospital managers are usually people from the local community with an interest in mental health. They are there to make sure that the hospital detains people only if they are allowed to do so under the Mental Health Act.

Hospital managers have the power to discharge you from detention in hospital. You can ask them at any time to look at whether you need to be detained. If your responsible medical officer wants to renew your detention and you tell the hospital managers that you don't want this to happen, they must hold a hearing to look at whether you should be discharged.

You should be given the chance to explain (in private if you prefer) why you want to be discharged, and to hear the views of your doctors and other professionals. If you want, you can have a friend or representative at the hearing to help you.

Your nearest relative
Your nearest relative can have you discharged if you are detained under section 2 or 3 of the Mental Health Act (see 'When can I be detained in hospital?'). To do this they must tell the hospital managers in writing at least 72 hours beforehand.

However, if your responsible medical officer believes that you are likely to be a danger to yourself or to other people, they can stop you being discharged by making a written report to the hospital. If this happens, and you are detained under section 3, your nearest relative can apply to a mental health review tribunal if they still think you should be discharged.

What if the hospital or doctor won't discharge me?
If you are detained under section 2 or 3 of the Mental Health Act and you want to be discharged from hospital, you can apply to a mental health review tribunal. This is an independent panel made up of:

  • a lawyer;
  • a doctor (usually a psychiatrist); and
  • a 'lay person' (for example, a social worker).

The Mental Health Act allows mental health review tribunals to discharge you straight away or on a date in the future.

If you are detained under section 2, you must apply to a mental health review tribunal within 14 days of being detained. If you are detained under section 3, you can apply to a mental health review tribunal within six months of being detained and during each following period if your stay in hospital is extended.

If you are detained under section 2, the mental health review tribunal must hold a hearing to look at your case within seven days of getting your application. There is no set time limit for a section 3 hearing, but it should happen within eight weeks.

Before the hearing, the doctor on the mental health review tribunal will visit you to assess your mental health.

The hospital managers should make sure that the mental health review tribunal gets an up-to-date medical report and a 'social circumstances' report (which covers things like your home and family circumstances, opportunities for employment and the support you would be able to get in the community). Copies of these reports should be sent to you or your solicitor. You and your solicitor may also want you to get your own medical report from a psychiatrist who is separate from the tribunal or a report from an independent social worker.

How do I apply for a mental health review tribunal hearing?
Staff on your hospital ward can help you apply for a mental health review tribunal hearing. They can also tell you how to find solicitors who can help you and represent you at the hearing. The Law Society has a Mental Health Review Tribunal Panel of solicitors who have experience in mental health review tribunals.

You won't have to pay your solicitor's legal costs for this, because they should be covered by the Community Legal Service Fund. See 'Further help' and 'The Community Legal Service' for more information.

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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