Independent Mental Health Advocacy

What the law says about mental illness

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.

Mental illness

Mental illness is defined under the Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022 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 they believe 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 types of compulsory treatment orders and the criteria that must be followed before someone can be placed on order.

Rights of people receiving treatment for mental illness

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

The intent of the The Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022 is ‘recovery orientated’, so the aim is to support people to recover, including giving them clear rights to make decisions about their own treatment.

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Reviewed 24 August 2023


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