Overview of the mental health laws
What the Mental Health Act does
When a person experiences mental illness, they usually get to make their own decisions about their treatment.
The Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 – “the Mental Health Act” for short – covers situations where it is believed that person needs treatment for their mental illness, but they do not agree to this.
If you become a patient under the Mental Health Act:
- your right to refuse treatment can be overridden during various stages of the assessment and treatment processes (see: “The compulsory assessment process”).
- you do not get to choose who will be in charge of your treatment (but you do have the right to request independent psychiatric advice to get a second opinion)
- you can be made to stay in hospital.
Note: The responsible clinician (see: “Definitions of key terms and descriptions of key people“) should, if possible, try to get the patient’s consent to any treatment, even when the patient is being treated under the Mental Health Act without their consent.
Main principles of the Mental Health Act
The Mental Health Act:
- defines the circumstances in which a patient is required to have compulsory assessment and treatment
- emphasises community-based care, with patients being sent to hospital only when necessary, in as free an environment as possible
- emphasises how important it is to respect patients’ cultural values and beliefs during their assessment and treatment
- emphasises consultation with patients’ family or whānau
- sets out patients’ rights when they are being assessed or treated.