for better mental health

Being sectioned – for young people

A guide on what happens and what your rights are when you’re sectioned.

This page is also available in Welsh (Cymraeg).

What does being sectioned mean?

Being sectioned means that you are kept in hospital so you can get treatment and support for your mental health. A law called the Mental Health Act 1983 explains when and how this should happen.

Being sectioned is different to being a voluntary patient, which is when you agree to go into hospital. When you’re sectioned, you have to go into hospital even if you don’t want to, or you don’t agree to being there. This is sometimes called being ‘detained’.

Sectioning is used to keep you safe and get you the treatment and support you need. But it’s normal to feel scared, upset or angry if this happens to you.

We’re here to talk you through what’s going to happen, and what your rights are when you're sectioned.

On this page we have information on:

Treatment and support glossary

Visit our treatment and support glossary which explains words and phrases you may hear when you're sectioned, including legal terms.

When can I be sectioned?

You will only be sectioned if you’re very unwell and doctors are worried that you’re a risk to yourself or someone else.

Your doctors should always try to think of other ways to look after you first, like asking you to go into hospital as a voluntary patient. See our information on being a voluntary patient to find out more.

Usually you’ll only be sectioned if everything else they’ve tried hasn’t worked.

Who decides if I need to be sectioned?

Before you can be sectioned, a group of health professionals have to meet with you. And they must all agree that you need to go into hospital to get treatment and support for your mental health problem.

You might hear this called an assessment or 'Mental Health Act Assessment'.

The team will be:

  • an approved mental health professional (AMHP) – they’re usually a specially trained social worker or nurse
  • and two doctors – usually you will know at least one of the doctors.

At least one of these people should also be a specialist in children and young people’s mental health.

What happens during the assessment?

When you see the approved mental health professional (AMHP), they should tell you who they are and why they’re meeting with you.

They should also ask you if you want someone else, like your parent or carer, to be with you while they talk to you. If you do, they should organise this for you. But sometimes, like in an emergency, they might not be able to do this.

The AMHP will ask you questions so they can decide whether you should be kept in hospital to get treatment for your mental health. Two doctors will also ask you some questions. This might happen at the same time, or you might see the doctors on their own.

If the team decides to section you, they should give you clear information to help you understand what’s happening. They should also listen to your feelings and views, and answer all your questions.

“It sounds a lot scarier than it actually was! It was basically just my normal doctor, a social worker and another doctor that I hadn’t met before reading through my notes. Then they came into a room with me and my mum to ask me questions."

What do all the different sections mean?

There are lots of different sections, and they all have different rules to keep you safe.

The main sections you’ll probably hear talked about are section 2 and section 3.

For some sections, you can ask the Mental Health Tribunal (a special court) to end your section.

To find out more, see our information on how to end your section.

Section 2

This means you can be kept in hospital for up to 28 days so your care team can:

  • learn more about your mental health problem
  • understand what kind of treatments and support work for you.

You can challenge your section at the Mental Health Tribunal and ask for it to be brought to an end. But you can only do this once, and you need to do this in the first 14 days.

If your care team still think you need treatment and support at the end of the 28 days, they might assess you to see if you should be put on a section 3.

Section 3

This means you can be kept in hospital for up to 6 months if it’s the only way to provide you with treatment and support for your mental health problem.

Your section 3 can be extended for another 6 months, and then after that, every year. This will only happen if your responsible clinician (main doctor) thinks you still need treatment and support in hospital.

You can challenge your section at the Mental Health Tribunal once in the first 6 months, once in the second 6 months, and then once every year.

Other sections

Here’s a list of other types of sections, and information about what they mean and how long they last:

What does this mean?

This means that an AMHP and one doctor agree that you need to go into hospital as an emergency, while waiting for a second doctor to assess you and decide whether you need to be put on a section 2 or section 3.

How long does it last?

Up to 72 hours (three days).

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

No.

What does this mean?

This might also be called a ‘holding power’. It only applies to you if you’re a voluntary patient or staying in hospital for another reason.

It means your doctor says you need to stay in hospital while a decision is made about whether to put you on a section 2 or section 3.

How long does it last?

Up to 72 hours (three days).

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

No.

What does this mean?

This might also be called a ‘holding power’. It only applies if you’re already in hospital getting treatment as a voluntary patient.

It means a nurse can keep you on the ward for a short time, so arrangements can be made for a doctor to assess you to see if you need to stay for longer.

A nurse can only use this section if you’ve said that you want to leave the ward. Or if you’ve acted in a way that suggests you’re trying to leave the ward.

How long does it last?

Up to 6 hours.

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

No.

What does this mean?

This might also be called a ‘guardianship’. It means that someone is appointed to be your 'guardian' instead of you being sectioned and kept in hospital. 

It's your guardian’s job to make sure you get support for your mental health outside of hospital. They can also make certain decisions about you. For example, they can decide where you live or make sure you go to important appointments

It can only be used if you’re 16 or above.

How long does it last?

6 months, but it can be extended.

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

Yes. You can do this once in the first 6 months, once in the second 6 months, then once every year.

What does this mean?

This is also called a ‘Community Treatment Order’, or ‘CTO’.

It means that your main doctor says you can live in the community, but you have to follow certain rules. These might include agreeing to see your doctor and taking medication.

You can only be put on a CTO if you have been on certain sections, like section 3 or section 37. You cannot be put on a CTO if you’ve only been on section 2.

How long does it last?

6 months, but it can be extended.

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

Yes. You can do this once in the first 6 months, once in the second 6 months, and then once every year.

What does this mean?

This means a judge in a court says you should go to hospital for treatment, rather than go to prison.

You can only be put on this section if you have been found guilty of a crime.

How long does it last?

6 months, but it can be extended.

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

Yes. You can’t do this in the first 6 months, but after that you can do it once in the second 6 months, and then once every year.

What does this mean?

If you’ve been put on a section 37, the judge can also put you on a section 41.

This is also called a ‘restriction order’. It means that you can only be discharged, moved to another hospital, or given leave with the permission of the Government.

A judge will only put you on a restriction order if they’re worried that you are a serious risk to other people.

How long does it last?

There is no fixed time limit.

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

Yes. You can’t do this in the first 6 months, but after that you can do it once in the second 6 months, and then once every year.

What does this mean?

This means that the Government wants to move you from prison to hospital, so you can get treatment for your mental health problem.

How long does it last?

6 months, but it can be extended.

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

Yes. You can do this once in the first 6 months, once in the second 6 months, and then once every year.

What does this mean?

This means the Government wants to move you from prison (if you’re awaiting trial) to hospital so you can get treatment for your mental health problem.

Or, it can mean the Government wants to move you from immigration detention to hospital so you can get treatment and support.

How long does it last?

6 months, but it can be extended.

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

Yes. You can do this once in the first 6 months, once in the second 6 months, and then once every year.

What does this mean?

If you’ve been put on a section 47, the Government can also put you on a section 49.

This is also called a ‘restriction direction’. It means that you can only be discharged, moved to another hospital, or given leave with permission of the Government.

How long does it last?

There is no fixed time limit.

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

Yes. You can do this once in the first 6 months, once in the second 6 months, and then once every year.

What does this mean?

If you’ve been put on a section 48, the Government can also put you on a section 49.

This is also called a ‘restriction direction’. It means that you can only be discharged, moved to another hospital, or given leave with permission of the Government.

How long does it last?

There is no fixed time limit.

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

Yes. You can do this once in the first 6 months, once in the second 6 months, and then once every year.

What does this mean?

You might hear this called a ‘police power’ or ‘police section’.

It means that if there are concerns about your mental health and safety, the police can go into your home and take you to a place of safety.

The police must be with a doctor and an AMHP.

The place of safety might be a hospital ward or a special room in a hospital. It could also be your home. It can never be a police cell.

How long does it last?

Usually for 24 hours (one day), but can be extended for another 12 hours.

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

No. But, if you’re not happy with how the police acted, you can make a complaint. Find out more on the Police Conduct website.

What does this mean?

You might hear this called a ‘police power’ or ‘police section’.

It’s usually used when you’re under section but you’re away from hospital without permission. It means the police can go into your home and take you back to hospital.

The police might be with a doctor or another mental health professional, but they don’t have to be.

Can I challenge my section at the Mental Health Tribunal?

No. But, if you’re not happy with how the police acted, you can make a complaint. Find out more on the Police Conduct website.

What does this mean?

You might hear this called a ‘police power’ or ‘police section’.

It means that if the police find you in a public place and they’re concerned about your mental health and safety, they can take you to a place of safety.

The place of safety might be a hospital ward or a special room in a hospital. It could also be your home. It can never be a police cell.

How long does it last?

Usually for 24 hours (one day), but can be continued for another 12 hours.

Can I challenge my section to the Mental Health Tribunal?

No. But, if you’re not happy with how the police acted, you can make a complaint. Find out more on the Police Conduct website.

“When I was sectioned, it felt very much like something that was just happening to me, not something that I had involvement with."

Looking after yourself in hospital

Visit our page on looking after yourself in hospital for tips and ideas on how to look after your wellbeing.

What are my rights if I’m sectioned?

When you’re sectioned, you’ll have lots of the same rights as voluntary patients. This includes being able to:

  • carry on with your studies
  • be on a ward with people your own age
  • stay in touch with family and friends
  • have privacy
  • have some internet and phone access
  • keep your information confidential.

See our page on being a voluntary patient for more information on these rights.

Here’s information on some the extra rights you have when you're sectioned:

If you’ve been sectioned, you have a right to an advocate.

An advocate is someone who can listen to you, and help make sure your voice is heard in decisions about you.

To find out more, ask your care team for information about the advocacy services on your ward.

You should be given information to help you understand what’s happening to you and what your rights are. This should include information on:

  • the section you’re under and why you’ve been sectioned
  • when you can be given treatment when you’re sectioned
  • how you can challenge your section (ask for it to end)
  • how to get extra support from an advocate.

Someone in your care team should explain the information to you and give you a physical copy, like a leaflet. You can also ask to see the information in a different language or Braille.

If you’re not given this information, you can ask a member of your care team or an advocate to help you get it. If you’re still not able to get the information, you can make a complaint.

If you’ve been sectioned under section 2 or section 3, or you’re on a Community Treatment Order (CTO), you will have something called a 'nearest relative'.

Your nearest relative will usually be a parent or carer. But it could also be a brother or sister if they’re over 18. Or it could be another family member, like a grandparent, aunt or uncle.

Your nearest relative is not the same thing as your next of kin, and you can’t choose who they are – but it’s normally someone you trust.

You nearest relative should usually be told if you’re going to be sectioned. They can also:

  • say no to you being sectioned under a section 3
  • be given information about your treatment
  • ask for your section to end if you're on a section 2 or section 3.

If you don’t want information about your treatment and support to be shared with them, let your care team know.

“My mum was very involved in my treatment and I was used to it.”

Your responsible clinician (main doctor) has to give you permission to leave the ward. This is sometimes called section 17 leave.

Before your doctor will give you section 17 leave, they need to think about whether it’s safe for you to go outside the ward.

When you’re first sectioned, you might not have any leave. When your doctor first lets you have leave, they might only want you to leave the ward for a short time. You might also need to go with staff or with a trusted adult. Over time, your leave should build up, and you might be able to leave the ward overnight.

You can speak to your doctor about your leave at your ward round, or ask an advocate to help you. If you need leave urgently, you should speak to a member of your care team and ask them to get in touch with your doctor.

“They explained that your leave might need to be stopped for a period of time depending on when how you’re doing.”


Can I still have leave during coronavirus?

Hospitals should still be able to give you leave during the coronavirus outbreak. But staff might need to:

  • limit the amount of leave you have
  • ask you to go at different times to other patients.

If they think you might not be able to follow safety guidelines (like social distancing), they could temporarily stop your leave.

Making a complaint

If you feel you haven’t been treated fairly or you’re unhappy about something that has happened on the ward, you can make a complaint. 

You can ask the hospital about how to do this, and who you should make the complaint to.

Making a complaint can be a hard process to go through, especially when you’re not feeling well. It can help to ask a trusted adult or advocate to help you.

You should try to make your complaint as soon as possible. Usually the time limit is 12 months from when the event happened or the problem started.

"I didn’t realise I still had a right to have my opinions heard on things like treatment or what was happening to me, even while it meant doctors had the final say."

How does my section end?

Your section might come to an end after a set period of time. Or your responsible clinician (main doctor) can end your section if they don’t think you need it to keep safe anymore.

You can also ask for your section to end (known as challenging your section). There are a few different ways you can do this:

  • Ask your nearest relative to apply for your section to end. If you doctor doesn’t agree, then your section will carry on. If this happens, they could ask the hospital managers or the Mental Health Tribunal to end the section instead. 
  • Ask the hospital managers. They can hold a hearing to listen to you and your care team’s views about why you shouldn’t be sectioned. The hospital managers can end the section even if your doctor doesn’t agree.
  • Apply to the Mental Health Tribunal. The tribunal is a special court that is separate from the hospital. They have the power to end your section even if your doctor doesn’t agree. For more information, you can read YoungMinds’ guide on what happens at the tribunal.

When your section comes to an end, you can stay in hospital if you still need treatment and support. This is called being a voluntary patient. See our page on being a voluntary patient for more information.

“I had a conversation with my doctor and we were both in agreement about ending my section. There wasn’t much to it.”

Hospital managers during coronavirus:

  • If it can’t take place in person, then it could be held over phone or video call.
  • If it can’t be held in person or over the phone, it may be pushed back for a short amount of time.

Mental Health Tribunals during coronavirus:

  • If it can’t take place in person, then it could be held over phone or video call.
  • It can take place with only one or two tribunal members (usually three needed).

What happens when I leave hospital?

Leaving hospital can feel like a very big step.

Before you go, your care team will want to make sure you’re well enough to leave, and that there’s support in place for you when you get home.

When you leave, you should be given:

  • a discharge summary, which explains how long you were in hospital and how your recovery went whilst you were there
  • a care plan, which explains a bit about you and the care and support you need. This could include advice on what should happen if you’re in crisis
  • contact details for someone you can speak to if you think your mental health is getting worse.

You should be told if you have a right to free help and support when you leave hospital. This is often called section 117 aftercare.

Section 117 support will be personal to you, depending on what support you need to stop your mental health from getting worse. 

This right to support doesn't end until your care team agree that you no longer need that support.

You might also be asked to go back to the hospital for appointments, or have follow up appointments with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) or your doctor.

This information was published in December 2020. We will revise it in 2022.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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