Section and Hospital Detention – The Mental Health Act 1983 (amended 2007)

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Under the Mental Health Act 1983 you can be legally detained by law in a psychiatric hospital against your will


Sometimes mental health problems can be severe, but you don’t always appreciate that anything is wrong. Treatment may be available, but because you feel fit, you won’t want to take it.
There are certain circumstances where you can be taken to hospital for assessment or treatment even though you don’t consent. this is commonly called “being sectioned” (officially known as being detained under a section of the Mental Health Act 1983)

To be “sectioned”, you will need to be assessed by three independent qualified people.

If those people think that:

You have a mental disorder of a nature or degree that

1. You could be a danger to yourself or others or your health is at risk and

2. The appropriate treatment is available

They may recommend that you be detained in hospital.

You cannot be treated against your will for alcohol or drug abuse, or for risky behaviour, unless a sufficiently severe mental disorder is present.

If you are not detained, you may be given the option of outpatient treatment, home treatment or inpatient treatment as a voluntary patient.

Section 2 and Section 3

These are the commonest sections of the Mental Health Act used to detain patients. In order to be detained, you have to be seen by two doctors and an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP). One of the doctors should know you (usually your GP), the other should be a doctor with special knowledge of mental disorder (a section 12 approved doctor). The AMHP will be independent of the two doctors. He or she may be a social worker, registered nurse, registered learning disability nurse, clinical psychologist or occupational therapist, who will have specialised knowledge of mental illness and treatments.

if you are detained ( or “sectioned”), you will be taken to a named hospital for further assessment and treatment.

If this is your first illness, or the team do not know what the treatment will be, you may be detained under section 2. This lasts for up to 28 days. If this is not your first illness, or if the team know what treatment should be offered, you may be kept in hospital under section 3. This lasts up to six months, although the average length of stay in 2007 was 5 weeks.

Criminal Justice Sections

These are uncommon. If you have committed a crime, and the judge or magistrate thinks that this is due to a mental illness, they can ask for one or two Section 12 approved doctors to see you. If they agree, assessment or treatment in hospital could be part of the process of remand, or part of the sentence.

Emergency Sections

If things become so difficult that there is an imminent risk to your life or danger to others, there are emergency sections that can be used:

Section 136

If the person appears to be suffering from mental illness, a police officer can take you from a public place to a “place of safety” (usually a hospital) to allow you to be assessed  for detention by an approved doctor. You can be kept at a place of safety for up to 24 hours, although matters are usually sorted out within one day.

Section 4

One doctor and either your nearest relative or an AMHP can apply for you to be admitted to hospital for your own safety while anther medical opinion is sought.

You can be kept for up to 72 hours on Section 4, although matters are usually sorted out within one day.

Section 5

If you are already an inpatient but you become so unwell that you need to be stopped from leaving for your own safety, a doctor can keep you in hospital for up to 72 hours (Section 5(2)), or a nurse for up to 6 hours (section 5(4)). This will allow time for two doctors and an AMHP to assess you.

You cannot be treated against your will on an emergency section.

Section 117

If a person has been detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act or another longer-term section, they may be released from hospital under Section 117 of the Act. This means that local Health and Social Services must provide suitable ‘aftercare’ for the person when they return to live in the community.

Information for Carers

What to do if you think someone needs treating against their will.

If you are worried about a friend or relative, and think they may need to be assessed or treated against their will, you have a number of options:

1. Their GP
If the doctor is worried, they may recommend detention and contact the AMHP and second doctor to complete the assessment.

2. Their Care Coordinator
If the person is already in services, you can contact their care coordinator. The number will be in their care plan. He or she may not be able to help directly, but can give you advice on the best person to contact.

3. Single Point of Access.
Ask to talk to the Duty AMHP, who will be able to help. If you are the persons relative, you have the legal right to request a Mental Health Act assessment.