What is Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA)?

An IMHA advocate is independent of mental health services, and can help eligible people get their opinions heard and make sure they know their rights under mental health law.  

People tell us that an IMHA can make a big difference to their experience of detention and the service is highly valued.

Changes to the Mental Health Act 1983 in 2007 placed a duty on local authorities to provide an IMHA service to all ‘qualifying patients’ from April 2009.

When do I have the right to an IMHA?

You have the right to an IMHA, and are known as a ‘qualifying patient’ if you are:

  • detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, except where you:
    • have been detained in an emergency, under section 4
    • are detained under section 5 holding powers
    • have been taken to a place of safety under section 135 or 136 of the Mental Health Act
  • “liable to be detained” – this includes when:
    • you are on leave of absence from hospital
    • you are absent without leave from hospital
    • where a court order or application for admission has been made in relation to you
  • subject to a community treatment order (CTO)
  • subject to guardianship
  • a conditionally discharged restricted patient
  • a voluntary/informal patient, where certain treatments, including electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and neurosurgery, are being considered.

If you are a qualifying patient and you have been denied the support of an IMHA, you should seek legal advice from a mental health or community care solicitor.

The service is free and confidential.  An IMHA will meet with an eligible patient following the request of the patient, the nearest relative, the responsible clinician or an AMHP.

What will an IMHA support me with?

An IMHA can work alongside you and help you to:

  • Understand and exercise your rights under the Mental Health Act 1983, including understanding:
    • the parts of the Mental health Act that apply to you (such as the reason why you are detained, and why you are eligible for an IMHA)
    • why decisions have been made
    • the rights that other people have in relation to you under the Mental Health Act (such as your nearest relative).
    • any conditions or restrictions that you are subject to (such as a community treatment order (CTO) or restrictions around leave of absence from a hospital)
    • medical treatment that you are receiving or might be given, including: the reasons for that treatment; the legal basis for providing that treatment; the safeguards and other requirements of the Mental Health Act 1983, which would apply to that treatment
  • Support you to take part in care planning and express your views about your care and treatment, including by representing you and speaking on your behalf – for example at review meetings or hospital managers’ hearings
  • Raise concerns about your experiences of care and treatment
  • Enforce your rights and get what you are entitled to
  • Make an application to the Mental Health Tribunal and present your views and support you at a mental health Tribunal hearing
  • Access legal advice
  • Discuss aftercare and access support and treatment
What can an IMHA do that another advocate can't?

What can an IMHA do that another advocate can't?

In order to support you, and with your consent, the IMHA will be also be able to:

  • Visit and talk to you in private.
  • Visit and interview anyone concerned with your medical treatment (e.g. nurses or consultants).
  • Request relevant medical and social services records.
How can I access an IMHA?

How can I access an IMHA?

You can request support from an IMHA at any time after you become a qualifying patient. You can ask:

  • a member of the ward staff
  • your responsible clinician
  • approved mental health professional (AMHP)

Other people can also ask an IMHA to visit you, these include:

  • your nearest relative
  • an AMHP
  • your responsible clinician

You can choose whether or not to work with an IMHA once they have visited. Working with an IMHA does not affect your right to seek legal advice, or any entitlement you may have to legal aid. It does not prevent you from working with another advocate, but other advocates do not have the same rights and duties as an IMHA.