Mental healthcare terms and what they mean

From contraband, to nursing team - here are a number of terms that are commonly used in mental healthcare, with an explanation of what each term means...


Restricted or banned items than must not be brought into a ward or building – e.g. mobile phones, keys.

Mental Capacity Act

This is a law to support and protect people who can’t make their own decisions due to a mental disorder. Our staff must use this law to decide whether a person lacks capacity to make a certain decision.

Mental disorder

A term used in the Mental Health Act to describe mental health conditions. In the Act, "mental disorder" means any disorder or disability of the mind.

Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA)

A law in England and Wales which provides a framework for people to be assessed and treated in hospital. It also supports discharge planning when the person is getting closer to leaving hospital care. St Andrew's has a Mental Health Act administration team which makes contact with Nearest Relatives to explain their rights. 

Nearest relative

The 'Nearest Relative' is a legal term used in the Mental Health Act. It's not the same as next of kin. The next of kin has no rights under the Mental Health Act. 

The Nearest Relative has some rights when someone is sectioned under the Mental Health Act, and can ask for an assessment to decide if the person does need to be detained.

They do not have the right to be told everything about the the patient such as the treatment they're receiving. The patient needs to be happy for that information to be shared. 

Nursing team

The nursing team are the people that provide the everyday care and support to patients on their ward. They are distinct from the clinical team. 


A qualified medical doctor who specialises in mental health. As a doctor, they can prescribe medication as well as recommend other forms of treatment.


A specialist in psychology, trained in several models of psychological therapy. Clinical psychologists have completed a doctorate in the subject.

Section (sectioned, on a section)

The specific part of the law that means a person is to be detained under the Mental Health Act. Common sections include:

Section 2: allows a person to be detained for up to 28 days to be assessed and treated

Section 3: means that a person can be detained for up to six months for treatment in hospital. Detention can be renewed for a further six months, then yearly.

Section 37 and 37/41 allows the courts, on the advice of two doctors, to sentence a person to hospital rather than prison.

Service user

Can refer to either a patient that is living here, or someone not staying at St Andrew’s that is using our services. 


‘Leave’ is permission for someone detained at St Andrew’s to go into the hospital grounds or local community. There are different terms, such as ‘grounds leave, ‘community leave’ or ‘section 17 leave’. This last term is where patients are allowed short periods of leave from hospital in the run-up to being discharged.

Informal patient

A term that relates to a patient that has chosen to stay at St Andrew’s voluntarily. They are not detained under the Mental Health Act. 

Capacity and Best Interests

These two terms relate to the Mental Capacity Act. Some people are not well enough to make decisions for themselves and are said to 'lack capacity'.

In these situations the decisions made must be in the patient's 'best interests'. It means considering what's right for the patient - not anyone else. The law has a checklist of things to consider when deciding someone's best interests. 


Everything we do to look after the patient and help them make progress

Care pathway

How the care we provide is planned to help the patient make progress – to a lower level of security, to live in the community or to move to a different ward. 

Care Programme Approach (CPA)

Regular CPA meetings take place at St Andrew’s to discuss each  patient’s case and how best to care for them

Code of Practice

The Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act both have a Code of Practice, to make sure doctors and nurses are following the law.

Clinical Team

This is the group of experts that are working with your patient and may include psychiatrists, psychologists and occupational therapists


A person is detained if they are being kept in hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act.


A dietitian is a qualified specialist in nutrition and diet. At St Andrew’s dietitians work with patients and our catering team to ensure people understand the importance of healthy eating. 


Under the Mental Capacity Act your family member may be cared for on a basis of continuous supervision. If so, there are safeguards in place to protect them called Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS). Ask your social worker whether this applies to your family member. 

Therapy services

At St Andrew’s therapy can refer to a wide range of activities, from medical and psychological therapy to art, music and sport.