Today I received a letter telling me that my responsible clinician has discharged me from detention under section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983. At first I rammed the letter straight back into the envelope not wanting to acknowledge it, for some reason seeing my name written next to those words made it feel very real.
Unless you have been detained under a section of the Mental Health Act it can be very hard to imagine what it is like, understandably people may fear being detained but recently I have seen worrying posts on Instagram and Twitter from people who want to be ‘sectioned’, it is okay to want help, to need more support but do this voluntarily because in my experience being detained was incredibly distressing.
I was admitted into hospital on a voluntary basis but I was very unwell. Anorexia had got me tight in it’s grips again and I felt scared, isolated, I honestly thought that there was no way out of my illness other than to die. I hadn’t taken care of myself at all in the months running up to my admission, I was in debt, not taking my medication, not sleeping, not doing anything with my day other than engaging in my eating disorder. On admission I was confused, weak and malnourished and attempting suicide constantly.
My informal admission became a formal admission when I tried to run out of the ward after a disagreement with a member of staff, I was placed on a section 5 (4) which allowed the nurse to hold me until a Mental Health Act assessment took place later that day when I was detained under section 2 of the Mental Health Act.
At first my detention didn’t bother me too much, I was so unwell that I don’t remember the beginnings of my admission. It is all a blur of being on one to one observations and convincing the staff I was ‘right’ and that I couldn’t get better. As my mental health improved due to nutrition and medication my Section became distressing and scary. Having all of your choices taken away is not a nice experience, I had no control, no say over my life and I hated it. Sometimes the ward could become a loud place, there would be upset patients or tension between the staff and the atmosphere was horrible and that’s when I would really feel the affects of my section. I had nowhere to go and had to stick it out, slow my breathing down to try and stay calm. It became very claustrophobic. There was no escape.
I think the worst part of my section was medication. Three letters: PRN. PRN stands for ‘pro re nata’ which translated from Latin means, ‘as the thing is needed’. PRN medication is often used in psychiatric wards when the patient, or staff, feels they need medication in order to calm down or to feel safer and so on. In my case PRN was lorezepam. There were times when this medication was needed and I am grateful that the staff offered and encouraged me to take it, however this was not always the case. The ward I was on did not specialise in eating disorders, I live in Wales so going to a specialised unit would mean being miles and miles away from my family. The ward did their best to help me with a condition they were not used to dealing with but there were many times when my meal plan was forgotten or the wrong food was given to me at meal times. One night I was given too much food but I wasn’t concentrating and I didn’t realise until after I had eaten the food. I was upset when I noticed and felt annoyed towards the member of staff because my meal plan was written down for them to see and this time they had gotten it wrong and I had eaten it. I was trying to explain my point that food was my medicine and I was starting to not trust them as my eating disorder was telling me they were getting it wrong on purpose to fatten me up, and all I was offered was lorezapam. It happened on a couple of other occasions too, for example when my phone charger went missing, normal things that anyone would get upset about and then I had to take lorezapam or be threatened with an injection when really I wasn’t so sure it was appropriate to medicate. Those times were scary and frustrating.
Detentions under the Mental Health Act can vary in length, you may be on a Section 2 but be discharged before the 28 days is up, or you may be on a Section 2 but asked to stay on as an informal patient (as I was) or your detention could be changed to a Section 3. My hospital admission lasted seven weeks and length was another factor in my distress. Seven weeks shut away from the world and living in the bubble of hospital makes returning to the ‘real world’ quite difficult, a few weeks on from my discharge and it is still something I am struggling with. In town I always find it to be busier than I expected, I feel my heart racing and have to work hard to calm my breathing. The first few times I went out I felt as though I didn’t belong there, just everyday things like going to the supermarket became huge steps. It is hard to adjust. Nobody knows where I have been, what I have gone through, the woman being impatient towards me when I can’t remember my PIN code is just doing her job, I know what a scatterbrain I look like and I feel my cheeks redden and my eyes fill with tears. It’s like learning to walk again and I know I will get there because it does get easier the more I go out but I hate feeling so stupid and being such a nuisance. Having to text and email people asking if they can remind me when my dance class is on and how much it costs, I am usually so organised and on top of things. Trying to rebuild a life after being detained under a Section is not easy.