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Discover how to be a mental health advocate and learn about your rights

For yourself, and for your loved ones, make sure you’re in the know when it comes to mental health rights

Discover how to be a mental health advocate and learn about your rights

Getting help for mental health problems can be daunting, but knowing what rights we are all entitled to lays a good foundation from which to take those first steps forwards.

There is some variation to the specifics in different countries in the UK, so it’s always a good idea to seek advice for your particular case – but, here, we’ve created a quick, simple guide to mental health rights, so you can become an advocate for yourself and for the people around you.

At work

All employers have a duty of care for their staff, which means that they must do all that is reasonably possible to support staff’s health, safety, and wellbeing. Legally, there’s no difference between a sick day taken for mental or physical health, and you can take ‘mental health days’ when you need them – you’ll just have to follow your company’s usual process for taking the day off sick.

Beyond that, a mental health problem may be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 if it has a ‘substantial adverse effect’ on the individual’s life, is expected to last at least 12 months, or affects their ability to do day-to-day activities. If this is the case, the employer must not discriminate against the employee because of their disability, and they must also make ‘reasonable adjustments’. These adjustments might include flexible hours to allow for appointments with GPs and mental health professionals, support withworking practices and workload, and training.

For more information, visit acas.org.uk. Additionally, joining a union means you have someone in your corner, who can advise you on your specific case as and when needed – to find a union for you, visit tuc.org.uk/joinunion

Under-18s

Children and young people under the age of 18 have many of the same rights as adults, although there are some differences to be aware of.

While a young person is in education, if they have a disability or school is difficult because of their mental health, they have the right to access extra support, which might include things like: a safe, quiet place to go at lunch or in between lessons; extra help from a member of staff; and extra time on exams.

Under-18s also have the right to be involved in decisions made about them, such as the kind of treatment and support they will get, who should be involved, and the kind of support that they will get from schools.

Lawstuff.org.uk offers free legal information to children and young people in England, and childline.org.uk can also provide general information about rights.

With your GP

When you go to see your GP about your mental health, you have all the same rights to patient confidentiality that you would do during an appointment about your physical health.

With some exceptions (such as, for example, when you need emergency treatment, have been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, or are a serving member of the armed forces), you have the legal right to choose which mental health provider you go to in England.

The NHS must also respect your human rights, and you can find out more about mental health and human rights by visiting bihr.org.uk and search for mental health.

With a counsellor

At present, there is no legally enforced regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists in the UK. So when it comes to working with a counsellor, it’s really important to find someone who has been accredited by the Professional Standard Authority (PSA), which means that they have met the PSA’s professional standard requirements.

Client confidentiality applies to your sessions. However, although there is no obligation for a counsellor to answer police questions about a client, guidelines from the Department of Health state that breaching confidentiality in the case of serious crime is appropriate, and the Terrorism Act 2000 makes it a criminal offence for a person not to disclose information that might prevent someone from carrying out an act of terror.

You also have the right to file a complaint about a counsellor – if you have been mistreated, or if they have failed to meet the standards set out by professional bodies – and you can do so by visiting the board’s website.

When it comes to your, or a loved one’s, mental health, you deserve to be heard, supported, and have confidence that you’re getting the help you need. Know that it’s OK to speak up for yourself and others – every voice united in advocacy will ring through louder and louder.

You can read more about mental health rights, and find an accessible guide to the Mental Health Act at nhs.uk.


Visit the Counselling Directory for more information regarding mental health, or speak to a qualified counsellor.