If you are suffering from a mental disorder, you may go into a psychiatric hospital or unit voluntarily, or you may be committed as an involuntary patient. The vast majority of admissions are voluntary – this means that you freely agree to go for treatment. Voluntary psychiatric patients are not completely free to leave psychiatric care and may be detained for a period and may then be involuntarily detained. There are detailed rules about the detention of patients involuntarily.
The rules about admission to psychiatric hospitals or units are set out in the Mental Health Act 2001. These rules apply in the same way to public and private psychiatric facilities. The Act requires that psychiatric hospitals and units be registered as approved psychiatric centres.
Under the Mental Health Act 2001, when people are admitted or are receiving treatment in approved centres (that is, psychiatric hospitals or inpatient services), their best interests should be considered before any decision about their care and treatment is made. They should be included in discussions with their care team about where their best interests lie to help them with their recovery. Patients have the right to be treated with dignity and respect and the right to be listened to by all those working on their care team. They are entitled to take part in decisions that affect their health and their care team should consider their views carefully. They have the right to be fully informed about their legal rights, their admission and treatment.
You can read more in this guide to the Mental
Health Act 2001 that explains your rights under mental health
Voluntary admission to a psychiatric hospital or unit occurs in much the same way as admission to a general hospital. Referral may be made by your GP or consultant. Unlike patients in general hospitals, you are not always completely free to leave psychiatric care when you wish.
If you are a voluntary patient who wants to leave a psychiatric centre and the consultant psychiatrist or a doctor or nurse on the staff considers that you are suffering from a mental disorder, the professional may detain you for a maximum of 24 hours. If the voluntary patient is a child and the parents or guardian want to remove them, the professional may have the child detained and placed in the custody of the Health Service Executive (if the professional considers that the child is suffering from a mental disorder).
After 24 hours, the consultant psychiatrist must then either discharge you or arrange for an examination by another consultant psychiatrist. The second consultant must issue a certificate stating that you should be detained because of a mental disorder or must discharge you. If you are detained, then you are an involuntary patient and all the procedures relating to information, review and appeal apply in the usual way. You can read more in our document on the rights of psychiatric patients.
Under the Mental Health Act 2001, you may be involuntarily admitted and detained in an approved psychiatric centre if you are suffering from a mental disorder. You may not be admitted purely because you are suffering from a personality disorder, are socially deviant or addicted to drugs or intoxicants.
The Act defines mental disorder as mental illness, severe dementia or
significant intellectual disability where:
Mental illness means a state of mind which affects your thinking,
perceiving, emotion or judgment and which seriously impairs your mental
function to the extent that you require care or medical treatment in your own
interest or in the interest of other people.
Severe dementia means a deterioration of the brain which significantly impairs your intellectual function and affects thought, comprehension and memory and which includes severe psychiatric or behavioural symptoms such as physical aggression.
Significant intellectual disability’ means a state of arrested or incomplete development of the mind which includes significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning and abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct.
An application for the involuntary admission of an adult may be made to a registered medical practitioner by a spouse, civil partner or relative, an authorised officer, a Garda or any other person. An authorised officer is an officer of the Health Service Executive (HSE) who is designated by the Chief Executive Officer of the HSE for the purposes of making such applications. This does does not include a separated spouse or civil partner or one against whom an application or order under the Domestic Violence Act has been made.
The following people may not make an application:
The person applying must have seen the person whose admission is sought within the 48 hours prior to making the application. If the application is being made by 'any other person', the application must include a statement of the reasons why it is being made, the connection of the applicant to the person whose admission is proposed and the circumstances in which the application is made.
If a Garda has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is suffering from a mental disorder and that, because of the disorder, there is a serious likelihood of the person causing immediate and serious harm to themselves or another person, the Garda may take the person into custody. If necessary, the Garda may use force to enter the premises where it is believed that the person is. The Garda must then go through the normal application procedure for involuntary detention in an approved centre. If the Garda's application is refused, the person must be released immediately. If the application is granted, the Garda must remove the person to the approved centre.
If it is proposed that you be involuntarily admitted to an approved centre, you must be examined by a medical practitioner (who is not a relative and is not involved with an approved centre) within 24 hours of the making of an application. The doctor must tell you the purpose of the examination unless they consider that such information would prejudice your mental health, well being or emotional condition.
If the doctor considers that you are suffering from a mental disorder, they make a recommendation that you be involuntarily admitted to an approved centre (other than the Central Mental Hospital). This recommendation remains in force for 7 days. If the application is refused and a subsequent application is made, the applicant is obliged to inform the doctor about the previous application, if aware of it.
In general, the applicant is responsible for taking the person to the centre. If this is not possible, then the doctor who made the recommendation may ask the clinical director of the centre or a consultant psychiatrist acting on their behalf to arrange for the person to be brought to the centre by the staff. If necessary, the Gardai may be asked to help. In this situation, the Gardai have the power to enter premises by force and may detain or restrain the patient if necessary.
When you are received at an approved psychiatric centre, you must be examined by a consultant psychiatrist on the staff. You may be detained for a maximum of 24 hours in the centre for this examination. If the psychiatrist is satisfied that you are suffering from a mental disorder, they then make an admission order. If the psychiatrist is not satisfied that you are suffering from a mental disorder, you must be released immediately. The admission order is valid for 21 days. It authorises your reception, detention and treatment in the centre for this period.
A renewal order may extend this period by a further 3 months. This must be
made by the consultant psychiatrist responsible and they must have examined you
in the week before making the order. A further renewal order may be made by the
same psychiatrist for a period of 6 months and subsequently for 12 months at a
There are provisions for the review of all admission orders. You can read more in our document on the rights of psychiatric patients.
The HSE may apply for the involuntary admission of a child who is suffering from a mental disorder. Such an application must be made to the District Court. The court will order a psychiatric examination and may then make an order that the child be admitted to an approved centre for a maximum of 21 days, which may be extended. Specific approval by the court is required if it is proposed to carry out psycho-surgery or electro-convulsive therapy on a child with a mental disorder.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.