If there is ever a widely reported act of violence on the news orchestrated by a single individual, the majority of the time it will be equally widely reported that said person was mentally ill and most likely “detained under the Mental Health Act”. Understandably then, when people hear of people being detained under the Mental Health Act, they associate the Act with danger. To be fair I can understand why people may jump to this conclusion.
If every time I heard about some violent crime I simultaneously heard that the perpetrator was addicted to coco pops, I may naturally make a connection between violent knife attacks in the street and coco pops. When the coco pops are simply mentioned as a “thing” and there is no explanation to tell me that coco pops are actually little puffs of cocoa sugar covered wheat based cereal with the key ability to turn the milk chocolatey, how am I to know any different?
Therefore, seeing as I am currently “detained” and have recently been given a load of forms explaining the official legal terms of it all, I thought I would do a post to clear up any confusion and to give a purely factual explanation of what the Mental Health Act is, what it does and what it means.
I don’t however want this to turn into some boring school lesson, so to liven it up I am going to provide my explanation via little examples involving “Patricia the penguin”. You know what they say: “When life gives you lemons you make lemonade”, so when life sections you under the Mental Health Act, you use the lump of paperwork dumped on you to make a post explaining what it means, with pictures of penguins to help clear up confusion and reduce mental health stigma. I think that’s the saying anyway…so here goes…
What is the Mental Health Act?: It is a law that enables professionals to admit and detain patients for a compulsory admission to hospital. It doesn’t have to have involved any incidents of violence, much like the consumption of coco pops does not have to be involved with criminal activity. Alas, unlike coco pops, the Mental Health Act does not turn the milk chocolatey, for there is rarely any milk involved.
How does one come to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act?: This is a question that will vary between the sections of the Act and individual circumstances, but as a basic principle a Mental Health Act Assessment will be called by professional people (I am not sure what they are professionally qualified in exactly, but they are usually people holding clipboards, stroking their chins, squinting/looking thoughtful), and they will interview you and ask questions in order to assess your health.
Are there different sections of the Mental Health Act?: What a marvellous question dear reader and one I can respond to with the knowledge that indeed there are several, the differences between which I will explain below with the help of Patricia…
Section Two: Recently, Patricia the penguin has been acting unsafely (skating on thin ice as it were), and is suspected to have a mental illness without the capacity to see that she is putting herself in danger. She is not however diagnosed with one, nor has she been in hospital before, so a group of professional penguin Doctors with specific training may place her under a section two, aka a legal detention to hospital for an assessment of her mental health, in order to establish whether or not she needs treatment. It can last up to 28 days and in that time they aim to discover if she has a mental disorder. Under this law she can be treated against her will if it is deemed in her best interests, and discharge or transfer to another section can happen during, or at the end of the 28 days.
Section Three: A section three is a detention in hospital for treatment, so if Patricia were to be put under this section it would mean that she were well known to hospital services, would have a diagnosis and not require assessment. In the section two admission, the focus would have been more about finding out why Patricia was found skating on thin ice in the middle of nowhere and deciding whether or not her reasons were rational, but for the section three they already know why she was skating in such a reckless way, for she has a diagnosis of “Skating on thin ice syndrome”, a common mental health problem in penguins that requires treatment when severe. On this section Patricia can be held for up to 6 months, but may be discharged sooner, or later if the section is renewed for further treatment. Again under this section it is possible for Patricia to be treated against her will (e.g. in her case, forced to skate on thicker blocks of ice even if she doesn’t want to).
Section Four: Section four is pretty much like a section two in that again it is a detention for a short period of time (72 hours) for an assessment of one’s mental health. This is more commonly used in emergency situations as you only need one special doctor to enact it, unlike a section two which requires two. For example, if Patricia is skating on thin ice at 5am in the middle of the arctic and two doctors with the ability to enact the Mental Health Act have been sent for, but one got lost by turning left at the second igloo (use your imagination kids), the doctor with superior navigation skills could potentially hold Patricia under a section four for 72 hours until the other Doctor hurries up to give his second opinion, which then may result in her being placed on a section two.
Section Five: In this circumstance Patricia has realised she may have skating on thin ice syndrome and has voluntarily admitted herself to hospital. However, twenty minutes into her admission she is overwhelmed with the desire to skate on thin ice and asks to discharge herself. The Doctor does not think this would be a good idea in terms of Patricia’s safety though, so he can put her on a Section 5(2), aka use his “Doctor’s holding power” for up to 72 hours. If there are no doctors available at the time Patricia is asking to leave however, a nurse can enact a section 5(4) which lasts for 6 hours or until a doctor arrives. This section will be used if there aren’t specially qualified doctor/doctors around to enact a section two/four available and can take place in general as well as mental hospitals.
CTO: This isn’t technically another section it is tied up in it all, as a CTO is a community treatment order that it’s possible for someone who has been detained under a section 3 to be discharged on to. Basically, it’s a legally binding order of conditions someone has to meet in order to be allowed to remain in the community (e.g. Patricia must attend weekly appointments/hand in her ice skates, cancel her membership to the local ice rink and take her antifreeze medication.)
And there we have it! Now of course this is a very brief explanation as to what the Mental Health Act is and there are far more details and legal jargon/complexities that go into each section, but hopefully I have demystified The Mental Health Act somewhat, albeit with a very basic, penguin centred outline. Hopefully if you are reading this you will never have to have anything to do with the Mental Health Act personally, but at least you will know what it actually is that is being referred to when an article brings it up in relation to something unpleasant that doesn’t put any effort into explaining the Act itself.
Finally, I just want to let everyone know that if anyone is concerned, I can confirm that Patricia the penguin is merely a fictional character created for the purpose of educating and reducing stigma, so please do not go away and worry about how she is doing after having been through all these sections. As a product of my imagination, I can assure you that Patricia is just fine, and I hope you all are too. Cheerio.
(I hope the above picture serves as enough evidence that Patricia is safe and sound/not in any danger. As you can see she is merely enjoying a bowl of coco pops in her safe ice igloo and has not been ice skating, nor will she be doing so in the near future.)