10 Things You Should Know About... The Mental Health Act 1983


1. When you're in recovery from mental illness, your opinion of the Act is likely to completely change. I think it's understandable that you resent the Act when the majority of your experience with it is likely to involve you being taken to a psychiatric hospital against your will. But I promise that once you're in recovery you'll look back on those experiences and feel grateful that the professionals stopped you from hurting yourself  or becoming more unwell. For them to go to such lengths to protect you and keep you safe illustrates that they have some sort of belief in you. They believe you have the potential to get better.
2. Just because you're being taken to hospital against your will, does not mean that you have no rights. You're still a person and although you'll often experience the feeling of being completely different to others when you're sectioned, you have basic rights. And you shouldn't feel intimidated to utilise them. When you're first sectioned, you should be given an information leaflet detailing these rights.
3. Most often, you will firstly be detained under section 2 of the Act. The aim of this section is for assessment, which means your admission will involve establishing a diagnosis and deciding on any treatment that may be beneficial to your mental health. You can be detained under this section for up to 28 days; you can be discharged before this and the section can not be renewed. This means that at the end of the 28 days, you could either be discharged, remain in hospital voluntarily, or be put under section 3 of the Act.
4. Section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983 is aimed to detain you to undergo treatment. This may mean that you're already known to services and have a diagnosis, or that it is thought that you need to remain in hospital once a section 2 has expired. Treatment will usually be deemed necessary for you health, safety and the safety of others. This section enables for you to be held in hospital for up to 6 months before it must be renewed.
5. The section that is more unknown, is section 5 which is shorter term at only 72 hours before you must be decided whether you should be placed under another section or discharged. Unlike the previous two sections, you do not need to undergo an assessment from particular professionals to be discharged. This section was used for me if I was in A&E and required medical treatment but tried to leave. It enables staff to detain you. Sub-section 5(2) is a doctor's holding power which requires only one doctors support. A 5(4) is a nurses holding power.
6. It might seem that if you experience these sections, or even just an assessment under the Mental Health Act 1983, you feel clued up on the various procedures. This might mean, as it did for me, that you feel confident that you know what to say and what not to say to avoid being sectioned. That you're almost invincible. You aren't. And feeling like this can worsen the affect that being sectioned has on you. At one point, I became very cocky that I knew the system and knew that I could say or do things that professionals could do nothing about. I was wrong. And I learnt that the hard way.
7. The Police also have the power to detain somebody under section 136. There's a lot of mixed views on this section; with some believing that this power should not exist as the police have such little training in mental health and so, it is questioned as to whether they can truly judge that a person requires to be assessed and possibly admitted to hospital. This is a valid point. Often police may detain someone for the assessor so to then decide the person can go home. It's frustrating for the police to have used their time and services to stay with the person and then feel that it was pointless. It is fact however, that police are usually the service most contacted if a person is thought to be mentally poorly in a public place.
8. Being assessed under the Act has the potential to be an upsetting experience as the assessment to decide if someone should be sectioned (usually done by two Psychiatrists and a specialist Social Worker), often involves difficult questions. They may ask what has brought you to service's attention, why it happened, ask personal questions that you aren't comfortable discussing or force you to acknowledge and recognise the thoughts and emotions that you'd rather not accept or admit to feeling.
9. If it is decided that you should be admitted to hospital, this could still mean that you are told that may be admitted voluntarily, and if you refuse you will be sectioned. Many inpatients joke that this in its self is another kind of sectioning and even, blackmail. Being sectioned can result in you feeling angry, upset, scared... It's important that you realise that all of these emotions, and many more, are perfectly normal. I'd advise that you try your best to voice these feelings to professionals so they can support you and often reassure you.
10. There are so many online resources available that can be relevant for both service users and those who support that person or perhaps for those who'd just like to learn more. If someone you know, love or care about is sectioned then this information can help you in supporting that person. If you google 'Mental Health Act 1983' you'll find many results. I'd recommend http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/legal-rights/mental-health-act-1983/mental-health-act-faqs/
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