Stacey Dooley’s On The Psych Ward reveals reality of being sectioned under the mental health act

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“Things have to get a lot worse before they decide to help you,” one patient reveals to Stacey Dooley during On The Psych Ward. “And, by the time things are worse, you don’t actually want the help.”

Stacey Dooley’s new documentary, On The Psych Ward, is incredibly powerful – but it would remiss of me to suggest that it makes for easy viewing.

Throughout the course of the episode, we see Dooley work alongside staff at London’s Springfield Hospital as they make life-changing decisions about their patients. She sits in on difficult conversations, including whether or not a suicidal teenager should be sent home. She talks with staff about their feelings on emergency tranquilisation, violent patients, over-crowded wards and the state of the NHS. And she asks them about the coping mechanisms they use to get through the day.

Dooley doesn’t just speak with mental health staff, though: she also sits down with the patients themselves – some of whom are there voluntarily, some involuntarily under section 136 of the mental health act – to discuss the events leading up to their arrival at Springfield Hospital, and the treatment they’ve received there. The acclaimed documentarian also makes a point of asking whether or not they have found it difficult to access help on the NHS.

Warning: the rest of this article contains details about the people and events shown in Stacey Dooley: On The Psych Ward

Early on in the episode, Dooley meets with Laura, who has been brought into the facility by police as she’s been deemed a danger to herself. And, as Dooley sensitively questions the 24-year-old, it soon becomes apparent that this is by far from the first time she has spent time at Springfield.

“I was discharged two days ago,” Laura tells her. “They discharged me because they couldn’t cope with my eating disorder. I haven’t eaten for like two weeks and three days now. And so I’m not really thinking straight.”

Laura reveals that, after yet another sleepless night, she decided she didn’t want to be alive anymore.

“I went to a bridge [with the intention of killing myself] and that’s when the police put me on 136,” she explains to Dooley, adding that she still feels like she wants to die because she hates her body.

Laura continues: “I first came into contact with mental health services at the age of 11. I’ve been in and out of relapse this whole year. I don’t think I’ve had the right help.”

Starkly, she adds: “With adult services, things have to get a lot worse before they decide to help you. And then, by the time things are worse, you don’t actually want the help.”

Stacey Dooley’s On The Psych Ward: the documentarian meets with Rachelle, 29, who has been diagnosed with EUPD
Stacey Dooley’s On The Psych Ward: the documentarian meets with Rachelle, 29, who has been diagnosed with EUPD

Elsewhere at the facility, Dooley meets with Rachelle, 29, who tells her that she has been involuntarily sectioned for seven months. Due to Rachelle’s EUPD (Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder), she feels extraordinary highs and lows over the course of a day, and has to be accompanied at all times by a healthcare nurse. And, showing off her room to Dooley, Rachelle explains that she has “nothing in here because they take everything from me” – including the laces of her shoes.

“Sometimes I don’t even know how to put into words how I’m feeling,” Rachelle explains to Dooley. “Almost as if a tornado is going on inside and I don’t know how to deal with it.”

It is at this point that Dooley asks Rachelle how many times she has attempted suicide.

“In my life, or in the past year?” comes the matter-of fact response. “In the past year, easily 50 or 60 times. In my life… 80?”

“Why?” asks Dooley.

“There’s a lot of reasons,” says Rachelle, before admitting that she hasn’t found her time at Springfield helpful. “I do think therapy [would help],” she continues. “I’ve never had therapy before, I’ve never spoken to anyone about my past. They have got a psychologist who comes [here] once a week but she’s been off sick…

“I’m not sure they know what to do with me.”

Later in the episode, Dooley joins Rachelle as she puts in a request for time away from the ward. However, staff gently remind her that she has made three suicide attempts in the past eight weeks, and attempted to run away from Springfield multiple times. And, as they are awaiting a place at a specialist EUPD unit in Cambridge, they would prefer not to make any potentially disruptive decisions.

“I seem to just be staying in the same situation constantly, with no progress,” says Rachelle, clearly frustrated by the refusal.

Later, though, Dooley admits that she can see both sides of the story.

“Of course she’s desperate to get out, she wants her freedom,” the documentary-maker acknowledges. “But from the Trust’s perspective, she has tried to kill herself multiple times. If she were to take her own life, they’d be held accountable.”

Stacey Dooley’s On The Psych Ward: Dooley with Kyle, 19
Stacey Dooley’s On The Psych Ward: Dooley with Kyle, 19

While some of Springfield’s patients are sectioned under the mental health act, Dooley also meets with those on the Lotus ward, who admitted themselves voluntarily.

Just like Laura and Rachelle, these are people in crisis. The maximum amount of time they are allowed to spend on the ward, though, is 48 hours, which can prove problematic – especially in cases like Kyle’s.

The 19-year-old agrees to speak with Dooley, and tells her that he has been suffering from depression and suicidal feelings.

“It’s hard to look forward,” he says. “I’ve gone to A&E but there’s only so much they can do as they have so many people to deal with.”

During his assessment with mental health nurse Rosie, Kyle is asked if he has any further plans to self-harm.

“Not now, but it was really impulsive,” he replies. “Within minutes I can just change my mind and do something. So that’s what I’m worried about.”

His answer worries Rosie, who decides to temporarily put the assessment on hold while she decides what to do.

“I’ve not assessed someone as flat as that in the entire time I’ve been here,” she tells Dooley.

Rosie flags the issue with her deputy manager, Polly, and suggests it may be worth keeping Kyle at Springfield for the time being. However, Polly soon reminds her that “hospitals aren’t nice places”.

“They’re chaotic and noisy,” she explains, adding that it is always the hospital’s preference that they avoid sectioning anyone if they don’t have to.

“This is not the real world,” agrees Dooley. “To get better, you have to experience reality.”

Dooley speaks to other patients, of course – and, unlike some other documentaries, On The Psych Ward makes a point of offering closure on all stories told.

What is made abundantly clear throughout, however, is how much pressure the NHS is currently facing. There aren’t enough beds for the number of people who need them, and there isn’t necessarily enough support for staff who are feeling the strain.

“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t gone home and cried,” one admits, during a frank conversation with Dooley.

As previously reported by Stylist, at least one in four people in the UK will engage in some sort of battle with their brain at least once during their lifetime. As such, more people than ever before are turning to the NHS for support.

The NHS aims to see those who have been referred for psychiatric support for mild to moderate issues within a maximum of 18 weeks, in line with wait times for physical health issues. However, new research has revealed that 122,000 people are waiting more than eight weeks for mental health support – with some referrals taking up to 15 weeks.

“So many of the people I’ve met have experienced some form of trauma that hasn’t been dealt with at the time,” reveals Dooley. “They reach adult years and it’s all unravelling, they find themselves unable to cope… but the level of demand is just unmanageable.

“If girls like Laura had been given the right help at the time in the community, would they be sat here now?”

We can only hope that, as the stigma around mental health continues to be broken down, this help becomes more readily available.

Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org.

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Stacey Dooley: On The Psych Ward will be available on BBC Three from 6am on Wednesday 19 February.

Images: BBC Three

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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