Mental Capacity

Mental Capacity

What is mental capacity and how can a psychologist help?

The word ‘capacity’ can be defined as the ability to do or understand something. Around two million people in the UK have been assessed as lacking the capacity or mental capacity to make decisions for themselves. You will be assumed to have capacity until you have had an assessment saying otherwise.

What is mental capacity?

The Mental Capacity Act (MCA) applies to people aged 16 and above in England and Wales and states that a person may not have capacity if they cannot do more than one of the following points; understand the information given to them, weigh up the information to make a decision, communicate their decision, or retain the information long enough to make a decision. 

You can lack capacity permanently and for short periods of time. Permanent lack of capacity could be due to; dementia, a learning disability, or a brain injury, as examples. Short term lack of capacity could be due to unconsciousness, being on some types of medication, or some mental health conditions.

How is it assessed?

Professionals aim to assess two main questions; does the person have an impairment to their mind or brain and does the impairment mean that the person is therefore unable to make specific decisions when needed?

  • Areas to be assessed might include:
  • general intellectual ability
  • memory and ability to learn
  • attention and concentration
  • verbal comprehension and expression
  • reasoning
  • information processing and executive functioning.

What happens in a result of lack of capacity?

The MCA deems that a selected person can make decisions on your behalf. This could include; friends, relatives, doctors or carers. This can be pre-planned, meaning you can choose who would make decisions for you if you were to ever lose mental capacity. Decisions made on your behalf could be; financial, medical, or day-to-day support. However, there are some decisions that can never be made for you such as; voting, placing a child for adoption or marriage. Lack of capacity isn’t always a permanent decision and can be reviewed.

How can Psychologists help?

Psychologists can conduct capacity assessments required for different contexts. These can include MCA assessments in legal contexts, complex decision-making requirements within clinical teams and everyday practice. Psychologists can formulate conclusions, opinions and recommendations based on assessments which should always consider the person’s best interests. 

The MCA provides a list of factors that a Psychologist should consider when deciding what is in someone’s best interest, this includes; thinking about your wishes, considering all of the circumstances relevant to you, and considering whether you may have mental capacity to make decisions again in the future.

You can write statements for potential lack of capacity alongside selecting who would make decisions for you, which has to be considered when formulating recommendations and professionals and family involved in the care of the person should also be consulted.


We hope that you found this article useful. If you feel you or someone close to you may benefit from some support around mental capacity, then please get in touch with My Family Psychologist.

We have support tailor-made for adults, teenagers, children, families, and couples so do not hesitate to get in touch to see how we can support you. You can contact the My Family Psychologist Offices between 8 am and 8 pm to book an appointment.


Mind mental-capacity-act-2005

NHS Mental Capacity Act

BPS- Mental Capacity Assessment: What makes a good assessment of capacity?

Social Care Institute For Excellence


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