With all three of my psych ward stays, I’ve been brought in on a section. I’ve been brought in on a section 2 (28-day hold) twice, and a section 3 (six-month hold) once; this occasion I was brought in on a section 2 but it was changed to a section 3 after five days.
So having been sectioned three times, what does it feel like?
WARNING: This blog post contains numerous triggers so please don’t read if you aren’t feeling strong at the moment. Please stay safe.
The English language does not have a word to aptly describe the numbing shock that being sectioned brings. But I can say that it doesn’t get easier with each section. If anything, this last section hit me very hard. I felt like everything was going so well, I had a positive plan for my life for the first time ever and another stint in a psych ward was the last thing on my mind. So when I was sat in a hospital bed after having an operation and being told that my psychiatrist was coming to visit me, I started to panic.
I tried to leave the ward several times but always got stopped. The reason they gave was that I was too weak to walk very far, but looking back, I know they wouldn’t have been able to keep me in that ward had it not been for the fact that I was (unknown to me at that moment) being assessed under the Mental Health Act. When a social worker introduced herself to me, the penny dropped. My psychiatrist was visiting me. A social worker was visiting me. All that was needed was a second doctor and there was an assessment under the Mental Health Act in the making. I really panicked this time.
My initial thought was to try and kill myself but there was nothing I could successfully use in that ward. Even though it was a medical ward, the room was still pretty safe. Once I had ascertained that I would be unable to kill myself, I started trying to get out of the ward even more. At one point, I actually made it to the doors and to the alarm of the nurses, found the button to unlock the doors. After this attempt at getting away, I was put on 1-2-1 obs and stopped from even sitting up. After a short interview with a second doctor, where I begged him not to section me, I was left with a healthcare assistant (HCA) in the side room I had been given at some point during the three days since my operation.
About half an hour to an hour after the second doctor left, there was a flurry of activity at the door. The HCA beside me stood up by my side, the social worker stood at the foot of my bed, two paramedics were standing by a wheelchair in the doorway and I could just see a security guard standing behind them. I was told that I was being moved over to the psych unit to which I shook my head. The social worker sighed and told me I didn’t have a choice. I was detained under section 2 of the Mental Health Act. Those words still echo in my head even now, three weeks on.
“You’ve been detained under section 2 of the Mental Health Act.”
The paramedics started telling me to sit in the wheelchair, that they didn’t want to have to get help. They were both really friendly, and I’m sure one of them was a paramedic from when I was taken in to the general side the first time at the end of August. Regardless of how friendly they were and how much I worried about the ‘getting help’ to get me in the wheelchair, I just couldn’t move. Being on a section again, even ‘just’ a section 2 was a massive thing to happen. It really did knock the wind out of my sails and left me almost mute from shock.
By the time the ambulance had driven the two-minute journey to the psych unit across the road, the shock had well and truly kicked in. When I was wheeled to the ward, I had my head in one of my hands. One of the nurses I knew from the last time I was in that ward crouched down in front of me and asked me if I remembered her. It took everything I had to nod my head. It was another 10 – 15 minutes before I was finally able to speak properly.
Four days later at my first ward round, my psychiatrist asked a load of questions, but then said he would get me to speak to a second doctor and a social worker. The implication I got was that he was thinking of taking me off my section, but no. I saw a second doctor later that day and the following day, I saw the same social worker I’d previously seen. The social worker was the first person to tell me that my psych was thinking about putting me on a section 3. Again, the wind was knocked out of my sails.
After the interview was over, I went back to my bedroom and put a blanket over my head. Not to kill myself, but just as a comfort thing. When the social worker returned to tell me that they’d all agreed to put me on a section 3, I ignored her. She told me what a section 3 meant to which I yelled something along the lines of, “I know, go away!” She tried a couple more times to explain things to me but I kept on shouting at her whenever she spoke. Once she had left my room (along with a nurse who’d accompanied her into my room), I started trying to figure out how I could kill myself again. The psych ward was even safer than the general ward I had been in previously though, so I was unable to really do anything. After recovering from the shock a bit, I just went numb and had no interest in doing anything. I was back on a section 3. It was the last thing I’d thought would happen as a result of the surgery.
So there’s the story of what happened when I got sectioned this time. The first two times on a section involved similar emotions – shock, numbness, being unable to talk properly, general feelings of depression and strong suicidal thoughts. During the second stay, my section 3 was renewed twice, which actually meant that my third section 3 lasted up to a year. (Section 3s get kind of complicated but basically if you’re on a section 3 that is renewed, then the doctor wants to renew it a second time, it’s moved to a year-long hold rather than just six-months. Any further renewals last another year.) The first time my section was renewed was a really difficult time for me.
In desperation to not be put on a second section 3, I snuck off the ward and bought painkillers. I didn’t take a large overdose (I won’t say how many I took), but I still had to go to A and E as a precaution. I didn’t do any damage to myself and while it was an afternoon out of the ward, I ended up on much closer obs than I had been and the door to the garden, which led to the car park, was locked for a few days afterwards. The second time my section 3 was renewed was easier. It was still upsetting that I was now on a year-long section, but I had braced myself for it a few weeks previously. It’s so far been the only start of a section where I haven’t desperately wanted or even tried to kill myself.
So what’s it like to be sectioned? Crushing. It’s one of the worst experiences you could ever go through. To lose some of your human rights, to be handed over to a doctor who can do virtually anything s/he wants to you and to be put in a place that’s way outside of your comfort zone isn’t exactly a picnic. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, not even those who bullied me and played a significant factor in me developing schizophrenia.
These are my personal experiences of being sectioned. With hindsight, some have positive thoughts of being sectioned, while others have had far more traumatic experiences than I had. The thing we all have in common though is the sectioning process. It’s a daunting experience, which as I said earlier, I wouldn’t wish on anyone. However, sometimes a section is necessary to a person who is a real danger to themselves. Is it necessary for me to be on this section I’m currently on? Right now, I believe the answer to be no.
But ask me again in six months and see what the answer is then.