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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Jump to:

  1. What is sectioning?
  2. What are the criteria for being sectioned?
  3. Sectioning in an emergency
  4. What happens after I’ve been sectioned?
  5. How long will I get sectioned for?
  6. Can I leave hospital if I’ve been sectioned?
  7. What if I don’t agree that I should be sectioned?
  8. How can I get myself sectioned?
  9. How can I get un-sectioned?
  10. Can I get someone I know sectioned?

What is sectioning?

Being sectioned means being detained under a ‘section’ (paragraph) of the Mental Health Act 1983. There are different types of sections, which all have a different set of rules for your care whilst you’re receiving help for your mental health.

For example, it could be decided that you’ll be safer being kept in a hospital, or that you should continue receiving treatment at home – this is 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.

What are the criteria for being sectioned?

Whilst being sectioned can seem really daunting, it is done to protect you from serious harm, such as suicidal thoughts. You can be sectioned lawfully in a non-emergency situation by two doctors and an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) if they feel that:

  • You’re too unwell to make decisions for yourself
  • You’re unable to understand that you need help
  • You might be at risk of seriously harming yourself or others
  • You have a mental illness that needs urgent assessment or treatment

Sectioning in an emergency

In some cases, you might become a danger to yourself before two doctors and an AMHP have been able to see you. There are some other conditions in which you might be sectioned by someone else: 

Sectioning in a public place

If you’re out in public and police become aware that you’re endangering yourself or someone else, then they can legally detain you to take you to either a police station or your local hospital.

Sectioning in hospital

If you’re already in hospital and the doctor in charge of your treatment is worried that you’re at risk, then they can make the choice to keep you in hospital to protect you from harm.

Sectioning in your own home

If you’re in your home and are refusing to allow an Approved Mental Health Professional or a doctor to see you, then a court can decide to grant them access without your consent so they can check that you’re safe.

What happens after I’ve been sectioned?

If you’ve been sectioned, you’ll be assessed, monitored and treated by a special doctor to help stabilise your condition. This is so that when you leave the hospital, you’ll be less likely to be at risk to yourself and others.

How long will I get sectioned for?

How long you will be sectioned for completely depends on your individual circumstance, and how quickly you’re able to recover. The two most common ‘sections’ of the Mental Health Act that will affect how long you can be sectioned for are:

  • Section 2 – this means you can be detained for observation for up to 28 days, and is known as the “assessment” section
  • Section 3, which means you can be held for up to six months and can be renewed. This is known as the “treatment” section

If you’ve been detained under an emergency section, then they can last up to 72 hours. In this time, the people responsible for your care can decide whether you need to be kept under Section 2 or 3. 

Can I leave hospital if I’ve been sectioned?

If you’ve been sectioned under either Section 2 or 3, then you won’t be allowed to leave the hospital responsible for your care. With the permission of your doctor, you might be able to leave temporarily, under a strict set of conditions such as:

  • How long you can be away for
  • Where you can go
  • 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.

What if I don’t agree that I should be sectioned?

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.

After three months, a Second Opinion Appointed Doctor (SOAD) will come and see you if you still don’t want treatment. This doctor will be completely independent and will decide what support you need. 

How can I get myself sectioned?

It’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to get yourself sectioned, as sectioning exists to help people who aren’t able to help themselves, or aren’t aware enough to recognise that they need help.

Being sectioned is for people who do not wish to go into hospital, not for those that do. If you recognise you need help, there are some other ways of getting support. For example, there’s a lot of charities out there that provide anonymous and immediate support, such as Shout, or us. Or you can speak to your GP or a mental health professional. Even a friend or family member might be able to help. 

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.

Can I get someone I know 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 as for an assessment too. But remember, sectioning is only if significant help is required and if your loved one is refusing help.

Next Steps

By Toni

Updated on 24-Oct-2020