Being sectioned

You can be sectioned if you’re at risk of hurting yourself or others and are unable (or unwilling) to consent to treatment. But what’s sectioning? What does it mean? Here’s all you need to know.

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What is sectioning?

Being sectioned means being detained under a ‘section’ (paragraph) of the Mental Health Act 1983 because doctors are worried you’re going to hurt yourself or other people. You’ll only be sectioned if you’re too unwell to make decisions or understand that you need help.

While you’re sectioned, you can be held in a hospital, or receive treatment while continuing to live at home (known as a community treatment order). If you’re under 18, you should be held in an ‘age-appropriate’ environment, like an adolescent mental health ward.

Why do you get sectioned?

To be sectioned, you must have a mental illness that needs urgent assessment or treatment. You can also be sectioned if you’re refusing treatment. When you’re sectioned, you’ll be assessed, monitored and treated to stabilise your condition and help you to recover.

How long will I get sectioned for?

The two most common ‘sections’ of the Mental Health Act are section 2, which means you can be detained for observation for 28 days, and section 3, which means you can be held for a maximum of six months. This can be extended if doctors think you’re still unwell and need further treatment.

“After three months, if you still don’t want to have treatment, or are not able to make the decision, a Second Opinion Appointed Doctor (SOAD) will come and see you,” says Dr Tony Zigmond from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. “This doctor is independent of your hospital doctor and will decide what medication you need and whether the treatment the hospital wishes to provide can be given to you.”

Read more about other sections of the Mental Health Act here.

Can I leave hospital if I’ve been sectioned?

Not if you’ve been sectioned under sections 2 and 3 of the Mental Health Act. You can leave temporarily, but only with the permission of your hospital doctor. They’ll tell you how long you can be away for, where you can go, and whether you’ll need someone with you. When you’re sectioned under a community treatment order, you can be admitted to hospital if you don’t follow the care plan agreed with your doctor.

I want to leave – what can I do?

Under sections 2 and 3 you have a right to appeal to the Mental Health Review Tribunal. This is an independent body. The tribunal will read reports written by members of your care team and hear your views. At the end of the tribunal, they’ll decide if your sectioning order should end or continue. You can also appeal to the hospital managers.

How can I get myself sectioned?

Usually, sectioning is something that happens against your will because you don’t think you need help. If you feel really desperate and lost you don’t have to get sectioned to get help.

“If a young person is feeling ill and in despair what they want is help,” says Dr Tony. “The legal principle if you want to go into hospital is that this should be arranged voluntarily with your consent. Being sectioned is for people who do not wish to go into hospital, not for those that do. If you recognise you need help, you will be willing to accept treatment.”

How can I get un-sectioned?

You’ll only be discharged when you’re feeling better, responding to treatment, and are no longer at risk of hurting yourself or others.

A family member or your partner can also ask for you to be discharged. Once they’ve requested this, doctors have up to 72 hours to assess whether it’s safe for you to leave hospital or your community treatment order.

I’m worried about someone, how can I get them sectioned?

If you’re concerned about someone and think they may need to be sectioned you need to contact your local social services – you can usually find their number on your council’s website. They can arrange a mental health needs assessment and provide access to support.

“A family member can go to their local social services and ask for an assessment of the person they wish to become a patient,” says Dr Tony. “However, it’s only when a person requires significant help and is refusing this that a sectioning order under the Mental Health Act would be considered.”

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By Julie Penfold

Updated on 23-Dec-2015

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