Mental Health Act

The Mental Health Act 1983

If you receive psychiatric treatment in a hospital or psychiatric unit on a voluntary basis you are known as an "informal" patient and legally you have exactly the same rights as someone treated in hospital for a physical problem. As an informal patient you are free to leave hospital or refuse treatment as you wish.

"Formal" patients are people who are compulsorily detained under one of the sections of the Mental Health Act 1983. As a formal patient you lose some of the rights that informal patients have. Besides loosing your right to leave hospital when you wish, for instance, you might also be given drug treatment without your consent.

A person cannot be compulsorily detained or 'sectioned' unless the criteria stated in the Act are met and there is considered to be no suitable alternative. For someone to be detained for longer than 72 hours requires agreement by a team of mental health professionals and this should be only after careful assessment and with sectioning used as a last resort.

The Mental Health Act 1983 states how people can be admitted to and detained in hospital. It is a complex law and open to different interpretations.

For more information see below.

MIND Publications
Tel: 020 8221 9666
Granta House, 15-19 Broadway, Stratford, London E15 4BQ

The Mental Health Act 2007

The Mental Health Act 2007 (MHA 2007) makes amendments to several pieces of existing legislation but the main changes it makes are to the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA 1983) and the introduction of 'Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards' into the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (the MCA). The full text of the MHA 2007 can be viewed on the website of the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) at

There are six main areas of the MHA 1983 which will be affected when the MHA 2007 comes into force:

  • there will be a new broad definition of mental disorder and the removal of most exclusions from the coverage of the MHA 1983
  • the 'treatability test' will be replaced by an 'appropriate treatment test', the new test applying to all the long-term powers of detention
  • supervised community treatment will be created through the introduction of a new Community Treatment Order for certain patients
  • new safeguards will be introduced, including a provision for advocacy and amendments to the provisions for displacing and appointing nearest relatives
  • the roles of approved social worker and responsible medical officer will be replaced by new roles which will be open to a wider range of professionals
  • provision will be made for powers to reduce the time limits for the automatic referral of some mental health patients to the Mental Health Review Tribunal

For further information see above Mind Publications.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005

The MCA applies to England and Wales. It affects anyone whose mental capacity to make decisions is affected by (what the Act refers to as) "an impairment of, or a disturbance in the functioning of, the mind or brain." In some cases, the person's capacity may be permanently affected, perhaps because they have a form of dementia, a learning disability or have suffered a brain injury. But in others, the person's capacity might be affected only for a temporary period, perhaps because they are confused or unconscious because of an illness or treatment for an illness.

The MCA applies only to people who experience mental distress where that distress is so severe that it affects the person's ability to make decisions. For some people, the ability to make certain decisions is permanently affected as a result of their experience of mental distress. However, many people who experience mental distress are capable of making all of their own decisions. For others, the ability to make some decisions is affected occasionally and only for short periods, perhaps when they feel at their lowest ebb.

The DirectGov Website has more information on The Mental Capacity Act 2005 (DirectGov Website)

Alternatively, you could contact the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). The OPG is the first point of contact for anyone seeking advice or information about the Mental Capacity Act.
Office of the Public Guardian
Tel: 0845 330 2900

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Modified: 2009-01-08
Published: Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:56:57
Author: Melanie Harper
Editor: _ Melanie.Harper
RDCMS ID: 25666