Home > Disability Rights & Values > An Overview of the Mental Health Act

An Overview of the Mental Health Act

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 14 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Mental Health Act Mental Health

The Mental Health Act 1983 and the amendment in 2007 were created to provide legislation and guidelines when a person with a mental disorder requires detainment within a mental health hospital or psychiatric unit. The Act sought to specify the processes that need to be undertaken in order to safeguard the patient involved. It was also introduced to ensure that patients were not inappropriately detained or treated without their consent. The Mental Health Act also provides a Code of Practice to guide professionals and others concerned with the admitting and treatment patients under the Act. The last revision to the Code of Practice was made in 1999.

The Act itself consists of ten parts, covering areas such as compulsory admission to hospital, consenting to treatment, mental health review tribunals, management of property and affairs of patients and the functions of local authorities.

Mental Health Act Overview And Learning Disabilities

In some cases, people with learning disabilities may be affected by ill mental health and mental disorders. When the mental disorder is deemed severe or dangerous, or renders the patient significantly impaired, they may be detained in a psychiatric unit or mental health hospital to ensure that they and the public are protected from harm. A person may be detained under a number of sections of the Act on the premise that the mental disorder has been ascertained and must be treated in hospital.

It’s also worth noting that a person detained under the Act is regarded as a formal patient. Formal patients don’t have as many rights as voluntary informal hospital patients. Therefore Act outlines who should be involved in making decisions regarding compulsory admission, as well as explaining the patient’s right of appeal. In some cases where the patient’s mental capacity is severely impaired, their nearest relative may have right of appeal if they believe it is in the patient’s best interests.

Admission To Hospital Under The Mental Health Act

The civil sections of the Mental Health Act stipulate that compulsory admission to hospital can only be made via formal application by a nearest relative to the patient, or an Approved Social Worker (ASW). The nearest relative may also ask an ASW to consider a case for detainment for the patient concerned.

An ASW is specifically trained in mental health and the associated legal issues. They are employed by their local authority to interview and assess people prior to making an application for admission under the Act. An application should only be made when the ASW or nearest relative believes that detention is the best option for providing the best care and treatment possible. The applicant must have seen the patient within the last 14 days when making the application.

The nearest relative to the patient has some rights under the Act, including the right to be informed or consulted when an ASW makes an application for detainment for compulsory assessment, as well as the right to object to the application. The nearest relative may also have the right to discharge the patient, and in certain situations on behalf of the patient, apply for a Mental Health Tribunal.


In order to make the application the ASW or nearest relative must have seen the patient within the last 14 days. The application also requires confirmation from two qualified medical practitioners that the patient’s mental disorder warrants at least a limited period in detainment in hospital for assessment or treatment, and that the detainment is in the best interests of the patient and for the protection of others. It is stipulated that at least one of the doctors required to make this confirmation has been approved under the Act. However, there are different procedures that are followed in the case of emergency admissions.

Detainment under the Act can last from emergency admission for up to 72 hours through to detainment that lasts from 28 days, 6 months or a year, depending on the circumstances and immediacy of treatment for the patient’s needs.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
you may want to update this page as the term ASW (approved social worker) is no longer used and has been replaced by the term AMHP (approved mental health professional)
AMHP in training - 12-May-12 @ 1:26 PM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word: