You may find yourself in hospital while receiving compulsory mental health treatment. It is important to know that you have rights to speak up and request time away from the hospital. This is often called 'leave of absence'.
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Can I be kept in the hospital against my will?
Under the law, the hospital can keep you against your will if you are on an inpatient treatment order. This means the service may decide to keep you there to treat you, even if you want to go home.
However, you may be granted a leave of absence by the psychiatrist to temporarily leave the hospital.
Do I have a right to leave of absence?
Yes. The Office of the Chief , which provides leadership to mental health services, says that leave is a right, not a privilege. The only way that the treating team can refuse you leave is by following the law.
In making leave decisions, the law says psychiatrists must consider:
- the least restrictive assessment and treatment – you must receive your assessment and treatment in the least restrictive way possible. You may want to tell your psychiatrist that leave is the least restrictive option for you
- supporting you to make decisions – you must be supported to make or participate in the decision about your leave. This means letting you know about your rights, giving you information about your options, and supporting you to make your own decisions
- the degree of risk – the psychiatrist must allow you to make decisions about your assessment, treatment and recovery, even where they involve a degree of risk. Risks are a normal part of everyday life, and you therefore can be supported to make positive and thought-out risks
- your reasons – the psychiatrist must consider why you want leave. For example, you may have practical tasks (e.g. bills, pets, Centrelink) you need to attend to, or believe that a break from the hospital environment would be therapeutic.
How can I make a request for leave?
You can make a request for leave to any staff member, however it is a psychiatrist who makes the decision. Some tips when you are asking for leave:
- think about your reasons – be clear about the purpose of your leave, and how it will be helpful to you
- ask questions – ask your psychiatrist how their decisions about leave are consistent with your rights.
- bring a support person – you may want to bring someone to support you at the meeting. This could be a family member, friend or peer, staff member, nominated person or advocate.
Why might my leave be refused?
Your leave may be refused because of:
- risk – a psychiatrist might decide that there is a serious risk to you or others if you have leave. Common risks that are raised by psychiatrists are a risk of not returning to the hospital, that nobody is available to go on leave with you, or that in their view you are too unwell
- staff – your leave request may not be processed because your psychiatrist is not available. If so, you may ask for a specific time-frame for this to be reviewed or ask for another psychiatrist to assess your leave.
What about 'risk'?
Sometimes people talk about 'risk' as the reason for why you are not given leave. If so, you might ask mental health staff:
- What risks are they concerned about?
- Why are such risks serious enough to stop me getting leave?
- How can we work together to solve the concerns about risk?
- How have you considered my rights in making this decision?
Download this fact sheet
This fact sheet is available in IMHA design or First Nations design.
Get help from IMHA
If you are on a compulsory treatment order or at risk of being placed upon one, our advocates can support you to have your say about your assessment, treatment and recovery. Learn how to get help from IMHA.
Reviewed 11 August 2022