Sunday, 3 May 2009

Is it OK to use the word “section” as a verb?

AMHP’s and other mental health professionals use the word “section” all the time when referring to someone being detained under the Mental Health Act. Even patients often use the word as a verb: “You’re not going to section me, are you?”

For those who don’t work in the mental health field, I will give a more detailed explanation. The MHA gives powers to apply for the detention in hospital of people with mental disorder. Specific sections of the MHA lay down these powers, for example, Section 2 allows someone to be detained for assessment for up to 28 days, and Section 3 allows detention for treatment for up to 6 months. Normally two doctors make recommendations that someone should be detained, and the AMHP then makes the final decision and completes the application. Once all the paperwork has been completed and the AMHP has signed his or her application, that person is then formally detained under the MHA, even if they are not yet in hospital. The formal detention gives the AMHP powers to arrange for the patient to be taken to hospital against their will, by whatever means necessary. This will usually involve an ambulance, and may also involve the police.

To talk about “sectioning” someone is therefore a form of shorthand: “Fred’s going hypomanic again. I think we’re going to have to section him.” (Instead of: “I think we’re going to have to assess him under the Mental Health Act to see if he needs to be detained.”) “Adele took an overdose and was sectioned last night.”(Instead of: “Adele was assessed under the Mental Health Act and detained in hospital.”)

Although I confess to using this term when talking to other professionals, I don’t necessarily feel entirely comfortable about it. Is it jargon? Does it demean or depersonalise people with mental disorder? I would never use the term with a patient, and always explain exactly what is happening when an assessment is taking place. This is not only good basic practice, it is a legal requirement. That is why I try to avoid using the word in this blog or in the written reports I have to provide when sectioning (sorry, detaining) someone.

1 comment:

  1. I tend not to use it if I can at all help it. I go through the whole 'we are going to assess and make a decision on that basis' because sometimes I feel language can mask a lot of attitudes and if we are a bit too 'off-hand' with it, it can seem almost gung-ho.
    I might slip at times, of course, because it's short-hand and it's how some people understand what we do (I'm an AMHP too, by the way!) but I still bristle every time..