What is an IMHA - Independent Mental Health Advocate

IMHA is short for Independent Mental Health Advocacy (the service) or Independent Mental Health Advocate (the person that does this work), pronounced "im-ha".

IMHA means a service or person who:


  • helps people with severe mental health conditions understand their rights and choices in their mental and physical health care and treatment.


  • ​helps people to participate in and influence decisions about their treatment, care and well-being in hospital or in the community. 


  • is independent of all public and private mental health and social care services.


  • should be provided to you free of charge if you are detained or receiving community treatment under certain sections of the Mental Health Act. If you have not been told about this service or have not been given enough information about whether you can access this service, please ask the Ward Manager, your Responsible Clinician, Care Coordinator or other senior professional involved with your care who will know whether you are able to access this service.


  • If you are not eligible but would still like the support of an IMHA or advocate, you should be able to ask for this as the right to advocacy has widened under the Care Act 2014, to support more people who are vulnerable because of mental or physical health conditions which make communicating your needs substantially more difficult.


 The Mental Health Act 1983 was changed in 2007 to allow for greater involvement of patients in their care with the help of an IMHA, which came into effect in April 2009.


An IMHA can help by asking you relevant questions about yourself, your mental health condition and getting to know what your thoughts and wishes are about the treatment, care and support you may need.


With your permission, they can also ask questions of those who care for you to make sure they get a good understanding of what could  be most helpful for your care, treatment and recovery and talk through the options with you. But the decisions are always yours. An advocate can give you impartial information about your options but they cannot make decisions for you.


They can attend meetings with you and with those responsible for your care (with or without you being present based on your wishes) and help to put your views across to the team, so that your voice is more strongly heard in planning your care and treatment. They can also help you to challenge decisions about your treatment and care if you disagree with what has been decided. With your permission, they can access your medical and social care records in order to help you make decisions based on your present and historical information.  They can also keep your Nearest Relative informed of their work with you if you provide your consent.


If you are a formal patient (compulsorily detained or 'sectioned') in a mental health unit or hospital, or you are under a Community Treatment Order (CTO) in the community or you are under a Guardianship Order, you can ask your Mental Health Service to provide you with an IMHA so that you are included in your care and treatment plans.