When my brain got sectioned


JAKEB STEVENSON knows WA’s mental health services inside and out – and “out” is where he’d much rather be after spending time involuntary in one of the state’s locked psychiatric wards. In the next instalment of his series looking at what it’s like to be in the mental health system, he describes the heart-breaking feeling of being “sectioned”. 

EVERY noise ricocheted off the plain white/beige walls. 

Every minute was slower, every second your heart would beat faster. 

I remember a girl around my age having a quite loud breakdown; resulting in security (dressed in stab-proof vest with red accents) having to attend. 

She had stolen cutlery, which was only allowed at meal times; she was furious and delusional, but the security guards remained calm. 

I remembered when the security was called on me because I was pacing and becoming quite agitated. 

Let’s just say they used a lot more physical force; I attained a lot more bruises and obtained a lot more trauma. 

To this day physical touch terrifies me, and even just the dark; I’m scared of the dark now. 

Every day you’d wake up and just go stand outside in the 10-metre-high walled courtyard, trying to get a bit of sun. 

You’d spend it smoking cigarettes, taking medication, seeing someone have a nervous breakdown because they’ve been there for three months and that’s pretty much it. 

No shoelaces, no phone charges, no lighters, no group exercises, no workshops and no therapy. 

The place and situation I’m describing to you isn’t just a normal mental health clinic, this is a ‘locked ward’. 

Often for people who have been sectioned by Mental Health Care Act 3A. 

With evaluation and decision carried out by psychiatrists, this Act puts you under the care of the state. 

You are not a person anymore; you cannot leave the country, you cannot leave the state, you cannot leave this locked ward. 

They can keep you there for up to 21 days before a new form will need to be put in place. 

I was always told I was being sectioned while waking up from just overdosing, so my brain wasn’t working; I was scared, very sick and I was really vulnerable. 

I’m not proud of it, but I have escaped from hospital a couple of times. 

One time before they transferred me to the locked ward I changed out of my gown, walked with confidence out of the ward and got in my car and drove back home, only to end up in a paddy wagon escort back to the hospital. 

Another time I remember in October 2020, they told me they’d sectioned me; I remember looking at everyone and just saying ‘I can’t’ – I can’t go back to the same locked ward which stemmed a lot of my trauma’. 

So I got up, casually picked up my things, got dressed and walked out. 

I got about 20 metres from the door when I saw two security guards coming down one side of the hall way and a bunch behind me. 

I went catatonic, I didn’t resist, I just didn’t cooperate until I heard my sister cry at the fear of what they could do to me and the pure stress it brings her. 

I just went limp, laid down on the bed. 

They pumped me full of more drugs before they escorted me to the locked ward. With some extra bruises. 

As someone who likes to think about things, I often think of a comparison between people of locked wards and people in voluntary stay. 

In the locked ward, I always had cigarettes, so people would pinch one and yarn with me. 

I don’t yarn back. 

But I heard stories and journeys so devastatingly repetitive among my fellow patients that it was soul crushing; lack of education, jail, family breakdowns (often parental), alcoholism, victims of assault, drug addiction, forced sex work, extreme cases of poverty and a total lack of justice served to these people for a majority of their lives. 

Lives of living through all these factors with a mental health condition, often with a psychosocial disability, so they are constantly spiralling out of control without real help, without routine and without structure. 

In voluntary wards people have similar issues, but often have several support networks in place, including relationships with family (although be it difficult), network of friends, other health professionals such as counsellors and psychologists, all help in stabilising someone. 

People in voluntary wards wait for a bed, they wait to get a referral, they’re open to attending workshops, doing crafts or chain smoking out the back. 

One other thing that I have noticed is that young adults in voluntary wards create connections with fellow patients. 

My opinion is that a lot of the time, relying on someone else for support who is in the same place as you can be dangerous. 

When I was in a private health clinic, I overheard a group of 18 – 25-year-olds who were organising to rent a house together. 

The nurses caught on and it didn’t progress any further. 

I’ve been to two different locked wards a couple of times each, and I’ve been to four voluntary wards a few times, two are private mental health clinics. 

The difference between the private is that it has the better quality of the staff, uses great resources, better facilities, food, freedom and general steps to keep you out of hospital and not just sign you off on a sheet. 

But these private mental health clinics cost money; I’ve always said how lucky I am to be able to afford private health insurance, as it’s allowed me to go to better hospitals. 

Public voluntary wards are fine too, but often run too similar to the same hospital’s locked ward. 

Public voluntary wards need more funding for beds and other resources so less people find themselves in a locked ward. 

I’ve been out of hospital for a year now, and that’s the way I hope it stays. 

But I think I now know when to make the call and go to a private mental health clinic instead of someone else making the decision for me. 

The only section I want to be in is the members section at the Fremantle Dockers games. 

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