07 May 2010


TX 19 May, 9pm, BBC FOUR

One in four people in the UK will suffer from mental illness at some time during their lives and each year around 30,000 people are detained under the Mental Health Act.

Sectioned – a new documentary produced in partnership with The Open University (OU) the BBC and supported by Headroom (the BBC's mental health campaign) – follows the journeys of three men with long-term mental health problems who are initially ‘sectioned’ (detained under the Mental Health Act). With unprecedented access to the mental health units within Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust – one of the largest such trusts in the UK – Sectioned follows Andrew, Richard and Anthony as they strive to leave the mental health system behind for good and regain control of their lives.

We first meet Richard, a young man in his 30s, on the Mental Health Intensive Care Unit. He was sectioned after threatening a neighbour with a knife. This is not the first time he has required specialist mental health services; since the age of 19 he has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, an illness that will affect one in 100 people across the UK at some point in their lives. Richard hears voices on a daily basis, and the programme follows him as he gets help and tries to make sense of his situation.

Andrew was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder (also known as manic depression) over 20 years ago. Now in his 50s, he has been sectioned and compulsorily admitted to hospital several times because of his unusual behaviour when he is manic. During these episodes his judgement is seriously disturbed and he becomes a risk to himself and to others. However, his mental illness hasn’t been the dominant feature of his life – he has raised two children and maintained a successful career as a consultant pathologist in the NHS. When we first meet Andrew, he is at one of his lowest points and has made the decision to move out of his family home once he is well enough to leave hospital.

While Richard and Andrew acknowledge that there are times when they need the help of mental health services, 54-year-old Anthony feels he has been in a 20 year battle to leave the system behind. His main issue is the medication he is prescribed – medication that the professional mental health staff consider he needs to stay well. Anthony, who also has abnormal or psychotic thoughts, just wants to be happy and believes that he is not able to feel completely well while he is dependent on mood altering medication with all the side effects he also experiences.

As the programme follows the experiences of these three men through the mental health system, we see each experience different challenges in their quest to recover their own mental equilibrium.

The Open University provided academic guidance to the production team on the issues explored in the programme, prior to and during filming. Mick McCormick, Lecturer in Social Work in the Faculty of Health and Social Care, and Dr Tom Heller Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Health and Social Care, were the OU academics working on Sectioned. Tom Heller commented: “This film is probably the first time that people confronting such complex mental health challenges have been able to present their side of the story to a wide audience. The filming of their journeys has been done with enormous care and sensitivity and we can all learn from their quest to put these episodes of mental distress behind them. The film is also probably the first time that staff members from an acute mental health unit have been recorded going about their daily work. The dedication, tact and professional skill that is apparent in their work shines through as they negotiate the best possible outcomes for the people under their care.”

Mick McCormick, a former social worker and now an academic specialising in the area, explained: “Most people receiving treatment in psychiatric wards are considered to be ‘informal patients’ – they do not object to being in hospital or being treated and have exactly the same rights as any person being treated for a physical illness. However, mental health legislation across the UK provides the legislative framework for compulsory admission to hospital, detention and treatment. This type of admission to hospital is only used as a last resort and, in considering the use of mental health legislation, mental health practitioners must consider the balance of rights, risks and individual needs. During the programme we hear from the patients and NHS staff of the dilemmas and challenges involved in this process.”

Sectioned was made in partnership with the OU. The programme is part of Headroom (www.bbc.co.uk/headroom), the BBC's mental health and wellbeing campaign, and was produced by Maverick TV. An accompanying programme, Mental: A History of the Madhouse, will TX on 17 May, 9pm, BBC FOUR.

To accompany the programmes, the OU has produced Sounds Mental: Creative voices in mental health. To order a copy, viewers can call 0845 366 8015 or visit www.open2.net/mentalhealth.

Notes to editors

Pictures available from BBC IPIX.

Programme Credits
BBC Executive Producer is Clare Paterson; Maverick Executive Producer is Madonna Benjamin; OU Multiplatform Commissioning Executive is Emma De’Ath; OU Broadcast Learning Executive is Kirsten Dwight; the OU academic consultants for the series are Dr Tom Heller (Senior Lecturer in Health) and Mick McCormick (Lecturer in Social Work).

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