The Mental Health Act

The Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992

The Mental Health Act is in place to make sure that people who have a mental disorder can obtain the care they need under certain circumstances.

The mental disorder has to be severe enough to put their own or others health and safety at serious risk, or to mean that they can no longer care for themselves. It is only used when absolutely necessary and when the person with the mental disorder is unable to agree to treatment.

Certain conditions, such as alcohol and drug dependence without another mental disorder are not included in the Mental Health Act.

The Act has a lot of safeguards and rules to ensure that anyone who is being treated under the Mental Health Act is treated well.

About Director Area Mental Health Services

Directors of Area Mental Health Services ('DAMHS') are appointed by the Director-General of Health (Ministry of Health) and are responsible for the Mental Health Act in their area, which is usually the same area as that covered by the District Health Board.

If someone believes you have a mental disorder they can apply to the DAMHS to have you assessed.

The DAMHS or a duly authorised officer will then arrange for an assessment examination.

No one can be treated under the Mental Health Act unless two doctors, one of which has to be a specialist psychiatrist, agree that the use of the Act is necessary.

About Duly Authorised Officers

Duly authorised officers (usually called DAOs) are health professionals with special responsibilities under the Mental Health Act. For example, DAOs can:

  • give advice about mental health services and how the Mental Health Act works;
  • help with the assessment of proposed patients.  

District Health Boards must keep a list of telephone numbers of DAOs that you or your family/whānau can ring if you need help or advice.  

To speak to a DAO telephone the mental health team on phone 0800 112 334.  

About District Inspectors

District inspectors are lawyers with special responsibilities for safeguarding the rights of people under the Mental Health Act.

For example, district inspectors can:

  • give you information about the compulsory assessment and treatment process and your legal rights;
  • arrange for a lawyer to represent you at a hearing;
  • investigate complaints about breaches of your rights. For example, if you are under a compulsory treatment order you have a right to information about any treatment you receive. If you are not told about the likely side effects of your medication you could make a complaint to a district inspector;
  • inquire more generally into any other aspect of patient care and treatment, or the management of hospitals or services;
  • visit and inspect hospitals and other services, including checking the registers recording the use of seclusion, restraint and force.