Mental health and your rights

Mental health and your rights

There are laws about:

  • what mental illness is
  • the treatment of people with a mental illness, particularly if they are being treated against their will
  • the rights of people with a mental illness, including how they receive treatment.

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 compulsory treatment.

People have different rights depending on whether they are treated voluntarily or under a compulsory order. It is important that people understand their rights.

Mental illness

Mental illness is defined under the Mental Health Act 2014 as a medical condition where a person’s thought, mood, perception or memory is significantly disturbed. Some examples are:

  • depression
  • schizophrenia
  • anxiety disorders.

You are not mentally ill just because:

  • you express or don't express your political, religious, philosophical or sexual beliefs, preferences, gender identity or sexual orientation
  • you are involved in or don't get involved in a particular political or religious activity
  • you are involved in sexual, immoral or illegal conduct
  • you have an intellectual disability
  • you behave in an anti-social way
  • you have a particular economic or social status
  • you belong to a particular cultural or racial group
  • you are or have previously been involved in family conflict
  • you have previously been treated for mental illness
  • you use 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. 

Voluntary or compulsory treatment

You can receive treatment as a voluntary patient or compulsory patient.

A voluntary patient can be admitted to hospital, but is free to leave whenever they want.

A compulsory patient is a person who has been assessed by a psychiatrist and put on a compulsory treatment order. They can receive treatment against their wishes while they are in the community or as an inpatient in hospital.

Read about the rules that must be followed before someone can be placed on a compulsory treatment order.

Rights of people receiving treatment for mental illness

There are a number of laws that protect the rights of people being treated for mental illness, including rights to privacy, confidentiality and other human rights.

The Mental Health Act is ‘recovery orientated’, so the aim is to support people to recover, including giving them clear rights to make decisions about their own treatment. Read about laws that protect the rights of people receiving compulsory treatment.

There are also ways that you can have some control over your treatment.

Capacity and informed consent to treatment

The Mental Health Act assumes that people are capable of making informed decisions about their treatment, unless the treating professionals decide that do not have capacity. This includes people on compulsory orders. Read about the guidelines for determining capacity and informed consent to treatment.

Mental Health Tribunal

The Mental Health Tribunal is an independent tribunal that makes decisions about compulsory treatment orders and orders about electroconvulsive treatment. Read more about going to the Mental Health Tribunal.

When the police get 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.

Making a complaint

If you are not happy with the services you have received (or not received) from a mental health service provider, you can make a complaint to the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner.

Other people can make a complaint on your behalf, such as someone you ask to complain for you, or someone who can show that they have a genuine interest in your wellbeing.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with mental health and your rights.