Voluntary or not..?

About 5 years ago I had a breakdown and became very ill. At one stage I even thought about killing myself and so went to my GP who told me to go home, make sure someone was with me at all times and he would phone the local Mental Health team urgently. That was on a Wednesday. On the Friday, I was still feeling bad and phoned my GP. He was horrified to hear the mental health team hadn’t been in touch. A little later, and yet another phone call to the team from my GP I was asked to go to the local psychiatric hospital for an assessment, which I did. It was decided by both myself and the psychiatrist that it would be best for me to be admitted for a few days. In other words, I agreed to go, or to use the right terminology, I was classed as an informal or voluntary patient. I had been there for about 8 days when I happened to mention to another patient that I was missing my children, felt much better and that I had decided that I would leave the hospital the following day. Big mistake! Before I knew what was happening my “named nurse” (who I had hardly seen since admission) came and gave me a stern talking to. I explained I now felt much better and really missed the kids and wanted to go home in the morning. In no uncertain terms I was told that if I did leave the police may well be called out to look for me and that I could end up sectioned. For what? For feeling better or just because I missed my family? I was under the impression, maybe naively, that if you are admitted to a psychiatric unit voluntarily I would be able to leave voluntarily. After all, if I was in hospital for a physical reason I can discharge myself and will not be chased around the county until I was marched back in being told I would be held against my will for the next x-amount of time! I am a relatively intelligent person who was aware I was unwell and needed help. The same intelligence told me that I now no longer needed to be couped up in a very depressing place and would be better off being with people who love me and would care for me. So why could I not leave? To conclude the story, I was seen by another psychiatrist a couple of days later and was told I was fine and that I could go home!!! I have thought about this a few times since and still cannot work out why I could not leave. If it is about duty of care well why can’t there be a disclaimer similar to the ones used by general hospitals which informal patients can sign? Another thought was maybe once you have a mental illness you are suddenly unintelligent and have no idea how you feel so therefore cannot make a decission (although I made the one to be admitted). What I would really like to know is whether this is a common problem faced by informal patients? If you have suffered the same problem or know someone who has I would like to hear about it. Thank you. DJ

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