Being detained under a section of the Mental Health Act is an experience that can be difficult and stressful.
It involves being removed from familiar surroundings, sometimes against your will, and being placed on a mental health ward for the safety of yourself or others.
Not only can it cause a lot of stress at the time, but it can also have profound and lasting effects on a person, which may continue to have an impact long into the future.
This is something people don’t tend to talk about much, and it can be difficult to know where to turn for help if you have been affected.
Although different people may feel differently about this experience, here are 10 ways you might feel.
1. Ashamed or embarrassed
No one should have to feel ashamed or embarrassed by needing urgent mental health care, however due to continuing stigma around serious mental health issues, this is a common experience for many people.
Those feelings could be about things you said or did that were out of character for you. Perhaps you feel that you let yourself or other people down in some way. This often goes along with feelings of guilt.
Perhaps people around you, such as your loved ones, or even your neighbours or work colleagues, know that you were sectioned, and it makes you feel embarrassed, and you worry about what they think of you. This can cause you to lose self-esteem and confidence, and not want to be around those people.
2. Guilty or sorry
Feeling ashamed is often tangled up with feelings of guilt. You may wonder why you acted a certain way, or why you didn’t do enough to stop it happening.
Perhaps you did or said things that you did not mean because you were so unwell, and now you feel bad about it. Maybe you caused other people to be distressed or upset, or even broke the law, because you were not your usual self, and you are carrying feelings of regret.
You might even want to say sorry to certain people, but you don’t have the opportunity, or you don’t know how.
The experience of being sectioned is one that not a lot of people go through and it is also deeply personal. It is not something that is easy to talk about with other people.
Your loved ones may be too close to the situation for you to want to talk to them, or perhaps you feel that they won’t understand because they have not been in the situation themselves.
Because your experiences involve services or professionals, you might not feel you can talk to them about this, or you may feel like the last thing you want is to be involved with mental health services again.
4. Like you don’t belong
You might find you feel differently around other people now. You might feel that you don’t fit in anymore because you have been through something that has changed you so much that you can no longer relate to others in the same way.
You may prefer to be alone and away from other people because of how you feel.
You might still feel angry about what happened, and even harbour resentment about what you experienced.
This could be due to feeling let down by loved ones or people you thought you could trust. It could cause you to avoid these people.
It could be due to what happened whilst you were sectioned and how professionals or services treated you. It might lead to you not wanting to engage with services in the future.
You may find that bad memories of your experience come back to you, even years later.
You might see something on the TV, such as programmes about mental illness or movies where people are trapped, held against their will, or coerced into doing things they don’t want to, and find these things upset you because they remind you of your experiences.
You might get flashbacks or nightmares about things that happened, or physical and physiological reactions, such as panic attacks or dissociation.
You might not feel anything at all.
Sometimes when things are too painful and too much to bear, your brain may try to cope by shutting off, and that can make you feel numb.
You might be unable to properly feel happy or sad about anything. You might feel indifferent about everything and find it hard to connect with other people because of it.
You may prefer not to be around other people and might lose interest in a lot of things you’d usually enjoy.
Things may have happened during your experience that still don’t make sense to you. Things may have been said or done by people around you that you still don’t really understand.
Wondering ‘why?’, and not having any opportunity to ask or find out, can lead to thoughts, images, and questions that continually bug you. That can make you feel uncomfortable, confused, and make it harder to come to terms with your experiences.
Being restricted and having your freedom taken away can make you that you have very little control over your life, even after you have your liberty back again.
It is very hard to forget that feeling of helplessness once you have felt it.
You might not have the mental strength afterwards to even think about your experiences, let alone talk about them, and prefer to push them to the back of your mind.
Unfortunately, intense feelings and emotions don’t just go away, and may continue to affect you deep inside.
10. Any way you like
Everyone can have different experiences whilst they are sectioned, due to many different factors, and that will have a bearing on the way you feel afterwards. Everyone is different, and people deal with things in different ways.
It doesn’t matter if you feel differently from other people who have had this experience. There is no one way you should or should not be feeling. Just because someone you know seems ok afterwards, doesn’t mean you are expected to as well.
You might be feeling all or none of these things, or some that I haven’t even mentioned.
However you are feeling, it is ok to feel like that, even after a long time.
Even if you went through the experience of being sectioned some time ago now, you have been through something very personal and difficult, and it is okay if you are still not over it.
If you do have someone you trust to talk to about it, perhaps you could share with them how you are feeling. You could try writing them a letter, or drawing pictures, if it is easier to get your feelings out that way.
If you don’t have anyone you trust, you could write how you feel in a private journal, which no one else reads but you. You could create art that helps you express how you are feeling.
Contacting a mental health charity is another a good idea. They are independent from services and people who work for these charities do so because they care about people like you. You could call a helpline and speak to a trained person who will listen to you. They won’t judge you, and could help you make sense of what you’re feeling.
I want to raise awareness of the fact that there is a need for specific support for people who have been sectioned, on top of the support you might get for your mental health condition. Being detained in this way is an experience that can affect you very deeply, and it is important that this is recognised.
It is important that mental health treatment does not add to the trauma or distress that people are already experiencing, and that they don’t continue to carry that burden into the future.
If you are a mental health practitioner or healthcare worker who works with people who are/have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act, please be aware of the lasting psychological effect this can have on an individual. Checking in with how someone feels about their experience days, weeks, months, even years after a section is rescinded could be really helpful for that person’s wellbeing. Just being able to talk about it with someone who is compassionate and open to listening could make a huge difference to how someone feels about their experience.
You might also like to read 8 ways it is OK to feel when you’re sectioned under the Mental Health Act, which looks at how you might feel whilst sectioned and detained in hospital.