The Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983 is a piece of legislation (in England and Wales) which tells people with mental health problems what their rights are regarding:
- assessment and treatment in hospital
- treatment in the community
- pathways into hospital, which can be civil or criminal
Many people who receive inpatient treatment on psychiatric wards have agreed to go into hospital as informal patients (also known as voluntary patients). However, roughly half are in hospital without their agreement as formal patients. This is because they have been detained under the Mental Health Act (often called being sectioned).
If you are a formal patient you lose certain rights, including the right to leave hospital freely, so if you're in this situation it's really important to know your rights under the Mental Health Act.
What does the Mental Health Act cover?
The Mental Health Act is divided up into lots of different sections. These contain information on:
Your rights when you are detained in hospital against your wishes (see our legal pages on sectioning).
Your family's rights when you are detained (see our legal pages on nearest relative).
Your rights when you are detained in hospital and also part of the criminal justice system (see our legal pages on mental health and the courts, mental health and the police and sectioning).
Your rights around consent to treatment when you are detained (see our legal pages on consent to medical treatment).
Your rights when you are leaving hospital, including how to have your section lifted and care planning (see our legal pages on leaving hospital).
Your rights when you are being treated in the community, for example receiving section 117 aftercare or on a community treatment order (CTO) (see our legal pages on community care and aftercare).
(See our page of Mental Health Act FAQs for more information.)
What other laws do I need to know about?
As a person with a mental health problem living in England or Wales, these are some other key pieces of legislation which set out some of your rights and protect you from discrimination:
Equality Act 2010
Mental Capacity Act 2005
Care Act 2014 (applies to England)
Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 (applies to Wales)
Human Rights Act 1998
Data Protection Act 1998
Where can I get legal support?
For further legal information you can contact:
a local Law Centre
Civil Legal Advice
Citizens Advice (England) or Citizens Advice (Wales)
a private solicitor – The Law Society website can provide a list of qualified solicitors in your area.
You may also be legally entitled to an advocate - someone who can help you understand your rights and make your voice heard. (See our page on statutory advocacy for more information.)
If you're looking for information in an accessible format for people with learning disabilities, you can find a series of Easy Read factsheets on your rights under the Mental Health Act on the NHS Choices website.