Whilst I have never been formally sectioned, I have been detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act several times.
Section 136 allows the Police to detain you if you are in a public place and they deem that you have a mental health problem and that you are in need of immediate care and control or, in other words, you may harm yourself or someone else.
If you are detained under section 136, the police must take you to a place of safety, in my experience this has always been the police station, where you can be detained for up to 72 hours until an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) and either one or two doctors have assessed you.
Before I describe my experience of the process I would say to anyone who is feeling so low that they think they may harm themselves, get help. What happens next can be scary and it’s certainly not a pleasant joy ride but it’s far better than the alternative. Call the emergency services or, if you can, you have every right to go to the nearest A&E and seek help there.
My worst experience of a 136 was following a visit to my children. I’d been drinking and I felt really low after dropping the children back at their mothers’ so I decided that a few more drinks before I caught the train would make me feel better.
Feeling worst, I nonetheless had to catch a train so I made way to the train station. I stood on the platform for quite some time. I may have even missed a few trains, I don’t really remember but, even though I thought I was doing nothing strange, apparently my behaviour had attracted some attention. My children live in a relatively small town where gossip travels fast so I heard all this later.
Apparently, I was wandering up and down the platform, close to the edge, paying an unhealthy attention to the fast trains that were passing through the station. I remember a lady asking if I was alright and her boarding a train with her mobile in her hand.
She, or someone else, must have called the police because the next thing I knew was that the platform was swarming with the emergency services. I don’t think that the sleepy seaside town I was in had had much experience of people like me because the number of police would have been worthy of a major terrorist incident rather than just little old me jumping in front of a train.
The police gently escorted from the platform and sat me in a waiting ambulance. Despite my assurances that I would be fine, it didn’t take long for the young officer to announce that he was detaining me under section 136 at which point I decided to get up and leave. Not a good move! My decision to go on my way and, probably, the fresh scars on my arms, lead to my being handcuffed and led to the police car.
It seems a bit harsh handcuffing a person who is obviously in distress and unwell but I do understand. As one police officer once explained to me; “I wouldn’t be doing my job if you harmed yourself while in my care”.
I was then driven to a police station in another town about twenty minutes from where I was picked up. This is the part of the process that I think is totally wrong. Bearing in mind that I have committed no crime, I was processed at the police station just as anyone else would be. My belt and shoelaces were removed and my positions taken from me. On this occasion, I was even strip-searched before being taken to a cell.
And there I was left for the night, watched over by an officer who sat at the door to the cell to make sure that I didn’t harm myself.
I don’t think I’ve ever been miss-treated by the police under these circumstances but there must be a better way of dealing with this type of event. The police are there to catch the bad guys, not deal with mental health issues, so all their procedures and guidelines are geared towards offenders not patients. It’s not their fault and I don’t have the answer but locking a depressed, anxious and potentially suicidal, mental health patient in a police cell overnight is certainly not it.
Eventually you will be assessed. If you have been drinking, they will wait until you have sobered up enough for this to happen. In my case, this was about half way through the following day. Even then, when I was breathalysed, the officer did a double take of the readings and asked if I was an alcoholic. I guess my levels were still beyond those of a mere mortal.
The first to arrive are the local Crisis Team. In my experience they should be called the Crisis Creation Team. They are supposed to be there to help you in such circumstances and provide you with support afterwards. In my experience they are always late and all they want to do is tick a box marked ‘Still Alive’. You will also be seen by a doctor.
From that point there are two possible routes: 1. you’re out the front door to find your own way home or 2. You are admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
On this occasion it was the front door route but I’ll deal with admission to psychiatric hospital another day. After a while you get savvy to the process and, however you really feel, you know what you need to say to keep yourself either in or out of hospital.
Mind you, knowing what you need to say doesn’t always help you. It wasn’t long after this episode that I was back in hospital again.