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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 covers situations when it is thought that a person needs treatment for their mental illness, but they do not agree to this.

Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992, ss 57–59, 69, 110A

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” and “Compulsory Treatment Orders” in this chapter)
  • 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.

Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992, s 59(4)

Note: The responsible clinician (see below) should, if possible, try to get the patient’s consent to any treatment, even when the treatment is authorised under the Mental Health Act without the patient’s consent.

Main principles of the Mental Health Act

The Mental Health Act:

  • defines the circumstances in which compulsory assessment and treatment can happen
  • 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 a patient’s 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.

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Mental health

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and information.

Health and Disability Commissioner


This “Mental health and addictions” webpage has information and pamphlets about mental-health services, including information for families and whānau.

Since the Mental Health Commission ceased to exist in 2012, the functions of the Health and Disability Commissioner have included monitoring mental health and addiction services and promoting improvements to those services. A specialist Mental Health Commissioner position was established in 2012 as part of the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner.

Ministry of Health Services and Support


List of publicly funded health and disability services available in New Zealand.

Mental Health Foundation


The Mental Health Foundation has useful links and resources for people dealing with mental health issues. Helplines:


1737 call or text to talk


1737 is a completely free service to call or text 1737 any time, 24 hours a day. You’ll get to talk to (or text with) a trained counsellor.

Mental health district inspectors


You can find a list of district inspectors on www.health.govt.nz if you search for “mental health district inspectors”

District Inspectors are lawyers appointed by the Minister of Health to protect the rights of people receiving treatment under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992, or the Intellectual Disability (Compulsory Care and Rehabilitation) Act 2003.

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