Components of Supported Decision Making

Our paper on the key components of supporting and assessing decision making ability was published today in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.


People’s ability to make decisions may be impaired for a wide range of reasons, including by mental health problems and learning disabilities. Individual autonomy, the ability to make decisions about our own lives, is a fundamental tenet of democratic societies. This has been reinforced by laws governing substitute and supported decision making and most significantly by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Article 12 of the UNCRPD requires everyone to have equal recognition before the law and, to achieve this, the necessary support and safeguards must be available. There has been considerable debate about the important theoretical and philosophical issues involved and growing research about the practice complexities of supporting and assessing decision making ability or mental capacity. This article aims to present some of the key components of the support and assessment process to inform further service development and training in this area. The key components were identified as part of a qualitative, participatory research project which explored the decision making experiences of people with mental health problems and/or learning disabilities. The conventional approach to the assessment of capacity is to consider four main components, whether the person is able to: understand, retain, use and weigh, and communicate the information needed to make the decision at that time. The findings from this research study suggest that people generally don’t usually talk about their experiences of decision making in terms of these four components and approaches to supporting people to make decisions don’t necessarily break the support down to explicitly address the assessment process. However, considering support for all aspects of the functional test may be helpful to ensure it is as comprehensive as possible. The challenges involved in providing effective support and assessing decision making ability are discussed and the article concludes with some of the implications for training, service development and practice.

Webb, P., Davidson, G., Edge, R., Falls, D., Keenan, F., Kelly, B., McLaughlin, A., Montgomery, L., Mulvenna, C., Norris, B., Owens, A. & Shea-Irvine, R. (2020) Key components of supporting and assessing decision making ability, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 72, C, 101613.