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Understanding mental capacity
Understanding mental capacity

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Week 1: What is mental capacity?


Welcome to Week 1 of the free badged course Understanding mental capacity. You may be interested in this course because you want to support a family member or a friend, or because you volunteer in a care setting, or because aspects of your work require you to understand it. You may not think about mental capacity in terms of its relevance to you personally. You may even feel rather daunted by the term ‘mental capacity’ as it can sound complicated and legalistic.

Mental capacity is simply the ability of a person to make decisions for themselves. Such a decision might be one that is taken daily, like what to have for breakfast, or one that concerns something more significant, like where to live. Where this ability is absent a person is said to lack capacity and may need help to make decisions.

One of the main themes running through this course is the idea that all adults need to understand what mental capacity means and its importance in their own lives.

Watch the animation below which illustrates this point.

Download this video clip.Video player: mhc_1_video_week1_activity1.mp4
Described image
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

There are differences between nations in the United Kingdom (UK) in how the law on capacity has come about and it would not be easy to produce a short course that covers all these variations or the reasons behind them. However, there are many points of comparison and it is useful to consider why the differences exist and what they tell us.

You begin this course by finding out what is meant by mental capacity. You will explore the definitions that exist and examine why understanding capacity is important and for whom. You will also consider why this is a contemporary important issue.

By the end of this week you should be able to:

  • define mental capacity
  • explain why understanding mental capacity is important and for whom
  • describe mental capacity in terms of how it can change and fluctuate over time.

Before you start, The Open University would really appreciate a few minutes of your time to tell us about yourself and your expectations of the course. Your input will help to further improve the online learning experience. If you’d like to help, and if you haven’t done so already, please fill in this optional survey [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .