Mental health and your rights
Mental health and your rights
There are laws about:
- what mental illness is
- treatment of people with a mental illness
- the rights of people with a mental illness.
Most people with a mental illness are treated voluntarily. But some people may need to be treated, even though they do not agree to it. This is called involuntary treatment.
People have different rights depending on whether they are treated voluntarily or involuntarily. It is important that people understand their rights.
Mental illness is still not well understood in the community. There is confusion about what it means and how it can be managed.
A mental illness is defined under the Mental Health Act 1986 as a medical condition where a person’s thought, mood, perception or memory is significantly disturbed. Some examples are:
- anxiety disorders.
You are not mentally ill just because:
- of your political, religious, philosophical or sexual beliefs or activities
- you are involved in sexual, immoral or illegal conduct
- you are intellectually disabled
- you have an anti-social personality
- you belong to a particular economic, social, cultural or racial group.
You are not described as being mentally ill just because you take drugs or alcohol. However, if your mind or body is seriously affected by you taking drugs or alcohol this could be taken as a sign that you are mentally ill, whether the effect is permanent or temporary.
Being diagnosed with a mental illness
Only a doctor can decide whether you have a mental illness and only after a proper assessment. Once you have been diagnosed as having a mental illness you can be given treatment.
You can be treated as a 'voluntary' (or informal) patient, or as an 'involuntary' patient. A voluntary patient can be admitted to hospital, but is free to leave whenever they want. A involuntary patient means you may be treated against your will.
An involuntary patient can be treated for a mental illness against their wishes.
There are set rules that have to be followed before someone can be made an involuntary patient.
If a doctor examines you and believes you fit the conditions of an involuntary patient, they can recommend that you be placed on:
- a community treatment order, requiring you to get treatment for your mental illness while you are in the community
- an involuntary treatment order, requiring you to get treatment in an approved mental health service, such as a hospital.
Conditions of an involuntary patient
You can be admitted to and held in a mental health service as an involuntary patient if all of the following conditions apply:
- you appear to be mentally ill
- your mental illness needs treatment straight away
- you are at risk to yourself or others
- you said no or were not well enough to agree to treatment for the mental illness
- you cannot receive the treatment you need in a way that would still let you keep your freedom.
Mental Health Review Board
The Mental Health Review Board is an independent review tribunal that reviews involuntary treatment orders. It can:
- decide whether you meet the requirements to be an involuntary patient
- decide that you should be on a community treatment order instead of an involuntary treatment order
- take you off a community or involuntary treatment order
- review your treatment plan, but not order a change of a particular type of treatment.
The board will look at reports of your mental health, your treatment and information about your whole life situation. You have the right to actively take part in the hearing and have your say.
If the police are involved
Sometimes police may get involved with a person with mental illness, if there is a risk of them hurting themselves or someone else. They can take you into custody urgently and you will have a mental health assessment.
If the police believe there is no immediate risk of harm but you still need an urgent mental health treatment, they can request an assessment from a mental health service.
For more detailed information about the how the law treats the different types of patients with a mental illness see the Law Handbook.
Find out how you can get help if you have a mental illness.