If you have been in hospital you may have heard of an IMHA (Independent Mental Health Advocate) but what is it, why would we need one, what can they do for us and how do we get one if we want one? I am hopefully going to battle through the professional jargon so you know everything you might need to know about IMHAs.
What is it?
An IMHA is an Independent Mental Health Advocate, they are trained specialist people who are not connected to any part of your treatment. They are there to listen and advise you.
What can they do for you?
When you are in hospital you are ill and often aren’t up for fighting for what you want to happen to you whilst you are there or even know what you can ask for, that’s where an IMHA comes in. They are basically your voice once they have informed you about your rights and they get you heard in meetings with professionals that in all honesty probably wouldn’t take you seriously before. I like to think of them as your side kicks they stand up to the plate when you need them.
Some examples of areas an IMHA can help with are:-
- By supporting you at ward rounds and/or care reviews
- By helping you make a formal complaint about your treatment
- Take up issues on your behalf
- Attend CPA’s or tribunals with you
- Help you access information about discharge, your rights whilst under section, medication etc.
How to access them?
Firstly you should be told by your mental health professional whether you are eligible to have help from an IMHA. This isn’t always the case for example in the last year I have been in hospital 4 times under section and only once have I been told about accessing an IMHA even though all four times I fitted the qualifying criteria. If you are not asked if you would like to access an IMHA and you think you fit the criteria then please ask a member of staff on the ward or get a family member/friend to ask.
A family member or certain mental health professionals working with you (including an Approved Mental Health Professional) can also access an IMHA on your behalf. You can ask for an IMHA at any point during your hospital stay.
Who qualifies for an IMHA?
- Anyone held under the mental health act except for under section 135, 136, 4, 5(2) and 5(4)
- Anyone on a supervised community treatment order
- Anyone who is on conditional and restricted discharged
- Anyone subject to guardianship
- Anyone (voluntary patients included) where serious treatment such as neurosurgery is being discussed and also ECT if under the age of 18.
Do you have to have one?
No you do not have to accept help from an IMHA, you can self-advocate, ask a family member or another advocate (i.e. from a charity organisation or private advocate). You could also have both, having an IMHA doesn’t mean that a family member cannot advocate for you as well but an IMHA has certain powers that other advocates cannot use to help you. You can also change your mind during your hospital stay about accessing an IMHA.
I have been in hospital several times under the mental health act but unfortunately only the latest time was I made aware that I qualified to access an IMHA and I had very little knowledge about what they did or how they could help me but I decided one more person involved in my case wouldn’t make a difference. I was wrong but in a good way. The doctor put in my referral to the IMHA service and the next day my advocate met me in a private room on the ward for a discussion. She asked me if I understood what my section meant and explained to me what rights I had whilst I was held under the mental health act. We went through what I thought of my proposed treatment plan and anything that I wasn’t in agreement with she agreed that she would help me discuss it with the staff involved with my treatment the next day at a meeting. At the meeting she made sure that I got my say the same as everyone else in that room (all of who were professionals, nurses, psychiatrist, social worker etc.) and although the treatment went ahead unchanged my opinions were noted and I was given thorough reasons behind why it would stay as it was proposed. I don’t think without an IMHA I would have been confident enough to put my case forward to these people and I don’t think they would have taken me seriously either.