Being detained under the Mental Health Act and confined to a psychiatric ward is something that is meant to happen in your best interests, but it most likely won’t feel like that at the time.
Of course, everyone will feel differently, but here are 8 ways you might feel.
Being free to mostly do as we choose is vital for us as human beings in today’s society. Being told that you cannot leave somewhere, or go out for a walk to stretch your legs, or being forced to do things and go places you do not want to, can have a profound and lasting effect on how you feel about yourself and about the world. It can make you feel like you have very little personal power left.
One of the most natural emotions to feel when you are no longer in control of what is happening to you is anger. You might feel angry with the professionals who assessed you, because you don’t agree with their decision. You might feel angry with your family or loved ones if you feel that this has happened because of them. You might be angry because you feel you are not being listened to, or because you feel that the staff are against you.
There are many things to feel angry about, and often other strong emotions, such as fear, can feel like anger.
Sometimes anger can lead to you lashing out and this is understandable if you feel stuck in such a confined and powerless situation. Unfortunately aggression may lead to further restrictive interventions or negative staff attitudes towards you, making you more angry and creating a cycle.
You may not be sure what is happening, know where you are, or know who these people are who are stopping you from doing what you want to do. You might be scared of the ward you are on, the other patients, or the staff, or what you think is going on.
The way you feel and act when you are afraid can often feel and look the same as anger.
No one should have to feel ashamed if their health has led to them needing urgent mental health treatment or support, but stigma in society around serious mental health problems continues, so it is not surprising if you do feel this way. Many people do.
Your feelings of shame may be about how you perceive yourself, and also about what other people might think about you.
You may only be able to see or speak to your loved ones at certain times or for short periods. You might not get along with any of the other patients, or be interested in them, and spend a lot of time on your own.
If you are moved to a hospital out of the area, it may be very difficult for you to have anyone visit you, and you may feel very far away from anything and anyone familiar.
You might not even want anyone to visit or call if you are feeling bad, such as feeling ashamed, or if you are angry with people seemingly playing a part in your current situation.
You can still feel lonely, even if you have purposely decided that you don’t want to see or speak to anyone.
When you are feeling irritable, you can get annoyed or stressed out at things very easily. This can happen for many reasons, such as in response to outside stress, or because you feel bored and fed up.
Psychiatric wards are usually not calm places. They can be noisy and uncomfortable, and boring if there are few activities, or if you don’t feel like joining in. All of these things can make you more irritable.
Other patients can be noisy or disruptive because they aren’t very well. Being stuck in a fairly small area, with people you would not normally choose to be with, can lead to you feeling irritable and agitated.
You may have children, a partner, or pets, and be worried about how you being away from them is affecting them. You might be worried about how being sectioned will affect your life in terms of your job or your reputation. You may be worried about your money situation or where you are going to live.
If you are an informal patient on a mental health ward, you will often be allowed to come and go as you please throughout the day.
As a patient on a section, however, you cannot go out for leave unless it is legally agreed to and signed off by a psychiatrist. This is called section 17 leave. If the psychiatrist is not in over the weekend to do it, or if they decide you won’t be allowed it yet, then you cannot leave the unit.
This means spending all your time in just a few spaces – a bedroom, hallway, lounge area, dining room, a small yard, maybe a quiet room, and occasionally activity rooms – sometimes for some time.
Feeling trapped can make you feel irritable, stressed, and angry, and more likely to feel aggressive towards others.
It can also have lasting effects on you mentally because of the stress it can cause.
These feelings are all very natural responses to the experience of being detained under a section of the Mental Health Act.
Although I have set them out individually here, these emotions do not happen separately, but are all entwined with each other. Feeling one will often make you also feel many of the others.
You may not even be able to tell which of them you are feeling because they all get so easily tangled and jumbled up together.
Your stress levels can affect the way you act and how you come across, which in turn might affect the way others respond to you and the care that you receive.
All of this can lead to an extremely stressful experience, the effects of which you might carry with you sometime into the future.
It is quite normal to feel any of these emotions, or any others, when you are in this situation.
If you are currently on a section on a mental health ward of any kind, it is highly likely that you are legally entitled to an advocate.
This is someone impartial, who is not part of the staff who are caring you, that will listen to you and support you to be able to express your views, and who will help you stand up for your rights.
If you would like to speak to an advocate, let a member of staff on your ward know. They will be able to organise that for you.
Alternatively, you can find one and contact them directly by searching online.
Here are some great UK charities with resources to get you started:
You might also like to read 10 ways you might feel after your Mental Health Act section is over, which looks at how the experience of being sectioned can still affect you for quite some time afterwards.