Mental health care

Mental (psychological) health care includes preventive actions, as well as treatment, and is ensured on three different levels.

Mental health care

Mental (psychological) health care includes preventive actions, as well as the treatment of persons with psychological or mental (psychiatric) disorders or illnesses. Mental health support is also a part of rehabilitation programmes.

Read more about mental (psychological) health in this Guide.

Mental health care levels

Mental health care is ensured on three levels:

1. Primary health care

A general practitioner (family doctor) assesses the condition of a patient and makes a (preliminary) diagnosis. The GP then informs the patient about treatment options (depending on the condition). The GP can also refer patients to psychotherapists using the state therapy fund.

2. Secondary health care 

Mental health care services are provided to a person by specialised professionals, such as, for example, clinical and health psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, etc. These services are provided without a person’s stay at a hospital or clinic (outpatient (ambulatory) care). Anyone can directly book an appointment with a psychiatrist without a referral, for psychologists and psychotherapists the referral is needed.

3. Tertiary health care

This is a highly specialised treatment in psychoneurological hospitals for patients with severe conditions: e.g., treatment-resistant depression, high suicide risk patients, life-threatening eating disorders, etc.

Placement in a mental health care institution

A person may be placed in a mental health care institution if they have a mental disorder that requires such placement. Placement in a mental health care institution should be voluntary and based on a person’s informed consent. However, in certain situations a person may be involuntarily placed in a mental health care institution. This must be done lawfully and must respect your human rights.

Read more about involuntary placement in mental health care institutions in this Guide.

Mental health care & Human rights

The right to receive mental health care is an aspect of your right to health. It is also linked to your right to life, right to private life and the prohibition of ill-treatment. Mental health and human rights are interdependent: serious human rights violations such as torture or displacement may leave a strong negative impact on mental health, while involuntary mental health treatment can hinder other human rights: the right to life, prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to liberty and security and the right to private life.

About this section

This section of the Guide will explain what mental health care is, who is entitled to free mental health support and what the conditions are for involuntary mental health treatment.

Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education