Wednesday 25 October 2017

Informal Admission and Being Sectioned: Seeing Life in a Psychiatric Unit from Both Sides, by Soph Hopkins

In September I wrote a post about being an informal patient on a psychiatric unit. It is with great sadness that I am now able to write about life as a sectioned patient. Seeing it from both ends has been a real eye-opener for me.

I came back into the psychiatric unit after only managing four weeks of discharge. I found those four weeks a real struggle: things happened and I couldn’t cope. I was first admitted as an informal patient after being on a section 136 by the police.

Everything was going ok, but I had a few days where I struggled. I got really upset and angry at myself and ended up using destructive coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, this meant that on Friday 13th October—a day that is known to be unlucky—I was placed on section 3 of the Mental Health Act with no leave for three days. This was a shock to me. I didn’t expect the knock on my door asking me to attend an assessment under the Mental Health Act.

I always thought I would be informal. As an informal patient I took my leave for granted, being allowed out all of the time not listening to nurses’ advice shocked me. Being on a section makes me think differently.

The words “section” and “detained” sound horrible: it sounds like you’re in prison because you are put under local authority care. I didn’t like this at all, and I decided to get a copy of my papers and see what had been said. I do agree with my section because I am unsafe in the community on my own and I need the care and treatment in hospital.

Having no leave opened by eyes to how unsafe I was, but I accepted it and headed into the ward round on Monday determined to get something. It went smoothly. I was ready to argue why I needed leave but I didn’t have to. I accepted my small leave and managed to get escorted leave because I don’t have family or close friends nearby who can do my shopping for me.

Being under section 3 means you can be treated against your will. The other day I had a scare. I was so ill that I had to be forced back on to the ward. I tried to leave so many times I had to be assessed by PICU (the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit). It is a locked ward with high staffing and limited personal possessions. It is the most secure ward for patients who aren’t in because of court or magistrate sentencing. I was and am fortunate: as long as I keep working with staff and keep taking my meds I can stay on the acute ward I was already on.

I was injected with medicine to make me feel better. I heard that I was a worry to the staff because when I get low I get so low I am capable of doing what I can to hurt myself. Waking up the next morning makes me realise how ill I can get.

I understand my section a lot more now. I am currently waiting to find out if I have been accepted onto a specialist personality disorder unit for intense psychotherapy: the average stay there is one to three years. I have an idea that hospital is going to be my home for some time, but I understand I need care and treatment.

Being diagnosed with Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder is hard to understand and I don’t want to go into it here, but there’s more to come on that. What I have learnt is there is life on a psychiatric ward. I made a close friend who really helped me understand that I have been sectioned and what it means. I have accepted that I need help, treatment and care

And most of all, I now can speak for both sides—being informal and being sectioned—and they are certainly different.

I want to leave you with a piece of advice. If you ever have to go into a psychiatric unit and get offered informal take it, but listen to the nurses and doctors. I wish I had now.

Also, if you’re homeless like me being on a section 3 does come with some benefits. They have section 117 aftercare and have to make sure you’re housed and supported when you leave hospital. Also don’t take your section leave for granted. Start small and build up.

The more you accept the more you get better.


About the Author

Originally from Gateshead, Soph Hopkins now resides in Wales. She has been volunteering and campaigning since she was fourteen. In 2014 she was Vinspired regional Volunteer of the Year for the northeast of England for bringing communities together. Vinspired is the UK’s leading volunteering charity for 14–25 year olds.

Soph is diagnosed with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD). Having spent time in and out of psychiatric hospital, she is keen to use her experience of mental illness to help others.

Please contact Soph by email (hopkinssophie3 [at] for copies of her articles, or for more information. She is keen to hear of any mental health opportunities in Wales.



  1. Good luck Soph. Thanks for writing the article.

    1. Thank you Peter, I will pass your comment on to Soph.

  2. You are doing such a noble work. I am so much amazed by reading your articles and your biography. You can be a great example for all of us. Thank you!