Question: I have heard about people being ‘sectioned’. What does this mean?
When people are “sectioned”, this means that they are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.
Being ‘sectioned’ usually refers to them being required to stay in hospital for a period of either 28 days for assessment, or six months for medical treatment.
People can only be detained under the Mental Health Act if two doctors (one of whom is a specialist psychiatrist) and a social worker who is trained to deal with mental health work, all agree that they need to be detained in hospital, and there is no reasonable alternative to that.
People can be detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act for assessment for up to 28 days.
If people need longer treatment in hospital, then they can be detained under Section 3 for a minimum period of six months initially, although this can be renewed.
Whilst they are in hospital, they can be given medical treatment against their wishes if their consultant psychiatrist authorises this, but after three months have passed, they cannot be given medical treatment unless they either consent to this, or a second opinion psychiatrist has agreed that this treatment is necessary.
People can be released from their section by their own consultant psychiatrist at any time.
Detained patients also have a right to appeal to an independent legal body called the Mental Health Tribunal, and the Tribunal has the power to order that a patient be discharged (even if their own consultant disagrees) after a hearing.
At these hearings, there is a thorough investigation of the patient’s current mental health, and what risks they could present to either themselves or to others if discharged.
It is important to realise that one in four of us will suffer from a serious mental health problem at some point in our lives, and being “sectioned” could therefore happen to you or a friend or family member.
It can be very frightening to be sectioned as often the ill person does not realise the extent of their problems and can themselves be frightened and distressed by the experiences that they are having.
Being sectioned can create even more worries for them, and anyone in that situation should obtain the advice of a solicitor as soon as possible.
They will automatically receive free legal aid in order to see a solicitor and to discuss appealing to a tribunal.