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When I Was Taken to the Police Station for Being Suicidal

I’ll always remember my first time in a police cell. No, I wasn’t caught shoplifting. No, I wasn’t drunk and nor was I caught doing anything I shouldn’t have been.

I’ve always been respectful of the law and never been in trouble with them. I was only there because I was in a mental health crisis.

It was a Saturday night, I had spent most of the evening walking around the local area, thinking about what way would be the best way to take my own life. I settled on a place, but a passer-by called the police. They soon turned up and I was detained me under S136 of the Mental Health Act.

At this point I was handcuffed, searched and put in the back of this huge police van. During this time I just shut down. Everything become a blur. I remember crying in the back because I thought I was a criminal since I was cuffed.

After a while the van pulled up at the police station, the back opened up and I was dragged out by an officer into a cell. A buzzer went off and I was once again dragged into where this towering desk was, filled with fear, shame and guilt. I quietly tried to answer the custody sergeant’s questions all while I was still handcuffed.

At this point he asked me why I thought I was here. I had no idea, why would someone in a mental health crisis be in a police station? Especially where the cells are. I said I didn’t know, with tears rolling down my face.

I had my rights explained, everything taken of me and logged: phone, keys, my books. You name it, I had it taken from me. I was taken down into a cell, my hoody, belt and shoes taken away. The door was shut behind me and locked. It was cold, smelt of something stale and the worst thing? The noise… People banging, swearing, threats being shouted, people kicking off. I was terrified, I remember being overloaded with all the noise and having a panic attack.

After what seemed like a eternity, someone came, calmed me down, gave me some tea and reassured me I hadn’t done anything wrong despite where I was. That helped a lot. After a number of hours in the cell, listening and crying, I was assessed by the mental health team and discharged.

A police cell really isn’t the place for someone in a mental health crisis to be. I was at my most vulnerable, in crisis, quiet, overwhelmed with everything going on in there and exhausted from it all. I really should have been in a place where I could have been taken care of by health workers, people who know what to do, and how to calm me down and keep me safe. Someone I could talk to without the noise of people shouting, swearing and kicking.

Between 2012 and 2013, in total 21,814 people were detained by the police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. This needs to change.

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Thinkstock photo via Dick Luria