Mental capacity

'Mental capacity' means being able to successfully make your own decisions.

Someone lacking capacity because of a disability or illness such as a learning disability, dementia or a mental health problem would be unable to do one or more of the following four things:

  • Understand information given to them about a particular decision
  • Retain that information long enough to be able to make the decision
  • Weigh up the information available to make the decision
  • Communicate their decision.

We all make decisions, big and small, every day of our lives and most of us are able to make these decisions for ourselves, although we may seek information, advice or support for the more serious or complex ones. The capacity of large numbers of people to make certain decisions about their life is affected on either a temporary or a permanent basis.

  • A person with a learning disability may lack the capacity to make major decisions, but this does not necessarily mean that they cannot decide what to eat, wear and do each day.

A person with mental health problems may be unable to make decisions when they are unwell, but able to make them when they are well. A person with dementia is likely to lose the ability to make decisions as the dementia gets more severe.

What causes a lack of mental capacity?

A lack of mental capacity could be due to:

  • A learning disability
  • A stroke or brain injury
  • A mental health problem
  • Dementia
  • Confusion, drowsiness or unconsciousness because of an illness or its treatment
  • Substance or alcohol misuse.

How is someone assessed for mental capacity?

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 outlines the criteria for assessing a person’s mental capacity. To find out more about the Act, see our information on the Mental Capacity Act.

Our work

We are recognised as a leading expert on all aspects of mental capacity. What sets us apart is our work focused on the three main groups of people affected by mental capacity issues.

These are:

  • People with learning disabilities (through the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities)
  • People with serious mental health problems
  • People with Dementia.

Since 2006 we have successfully carried out a number of projects on mental capacity issues as well as doing extensive policy and public affairs work in the field. We are seen by many as being the leading third-sector organisation with expertise in the mental capacity field.

Easy Read Guide to mental capacity and finance

We have developed an easy read guide for people with learning disabilities and their families around mental capacity and finances.

Alongside hft, we helped develop a guide around the Mental Capacity Act 2005 for the benefit of family carers.

Best Interests Decision Making

We were a research partner on a major study of the Mental Capacity Act led by the Norah Fry Research Centre at the University of Bristol, also involving the University of Bradford.

The study looked at best interests decisions made under the Act, with its final report concluding that whilst a lot of good practice was present, some health and social care staff still need to be more aware of how to apply the Mental Capacity Act.