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Independent Mental Health Advocacy in action: Ryan’s story

10 October 2022

The law says that when you are detained under the Mental Health Act (“sectioned”), you have the right to help from an advocate. 

When Ryan* was admitted and sectioned on a mental health ward, the initial coronavirus pandemic lockdown was underway. 

As well as his mental health condition, Ryan was HIV positive. His HIV was well managed with medication, but the hospital ward made the assumption that Ryan was at particular risk of coronavirus, due to a heightened risk of coronavirus on the ward generally. As a result, they asked Ryan to remain in his room on the ward and not to access communal areas. He was also refused leave of absence from the ward, which is an important step towards discharge from hospital, despite no concerns regarding his mental health or behaviour. 

Ryan had been told he was entitled to an advocate when he was first admitted. When he became concerned about his rights, he contacted us. Although the pandemic meant he couldn’t meet his advocate face to face, they talked on the phone. Ryan’s advocate researched the facts around HIV, coronavirus and risk levels and was able to confirm that he was at no higher risk than any other person on the ward. 

At Ryan’s request, the advocate communicated these facts with ward staff and requested an urgent review. Following the review, Ryan was allowed leave of absence from the ward. 

Instead of being alone in one room, he had the same freedoms as other people on the ward, and could start to take positive steps towards discharge from hospital.

* To protect people’s privacy we don’t use their real names, but their stories are genuine.

What is Independent Mental Health Avocacy (IMHA)?

An advocate is an independent professional who is on your side. They can support you to have your say and know your rights.

People detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act are entitled to support from an advocate - known as an IMHA. 

If you don’t agree that you should be in hospital, it’s important to speak to an advocate as soon as you arrive.

Advocates can help you to:

  • get a solicitor, who may be able to help you appeal your section
  • prepare for Mental Health Tribunals and Hospital Managers’ Meetings
  • complain if you are unhappy with your care or treatment

Professionals should always offer advocacy to people sectioned in hospital. Friends and family members can also request an advocate on their behalf. If you didn’t ask for an advocate at the start of your time in hospital, you can ask for one later.

Advocacy is provided by different organisations in different parts of the UK.