Much of Danielle Manning's childhood was defined by her mum being sectioned under the Mental Health Act. At the time, nobody really explained what it meant or what was happening when her mother disappeared for weeks or months, and she and her brothers were sent to live with her grandma in Essex.
Years later after her mum passed away, when Danielle herself was sectioned after experiencing psychosis, she came to understand first-hand what it was like to be detained for her own safety. In her new BBC Sounds podcast, Sectioned, Danielle takes us through some of the most challenging moments in her life. She speaks about seeing her mum physically removed from their north London home at the age of just four or five. With the help of her best friend Em, Danielle pieces together what happened on the day she was sectioned for the second time and how, after struggling to help Danielle while she was having hallucinations and delusions, her friends called the crisis services.
Danielle's experience in mental health facilities – one of which her mum had also been taken to – was turbulent. After speaking to other young people who also had their lives changed by the experience of being sectioned, Danielle realised that, unfortunately, encounters in mental health institutions aren't always positive. Twenty-three-year-old Seni Lewis died after being restrained by 11 police officers in a London mental health hospital and his story made national news. In the podcast Danielle meets his mother, Aji, who campaigned to find out the truth about what happened to her son in 2010 and in 2018 managed to change the law around the levels of restraint used against patients in mental health units.
Among various professionals on the front line of mental health crisis response teams, Danielle speaks to Alika, who was sectioned in his early 20s and found his treatment during detention drastically affected his mental state. We also meet Idrea, a young woman in recovery after weeks on a psychiatric ward who now attends the Mosaic Clubhouse – a mental health charity that refers to visitors as 'members' rather than 'patients', which has dramatically transformed the experiences of those dealing with mental health issues in the community.
Refinery29 chatted with Danielle about the significance of retracing some of the darkest and most difficult periods of her life to put together this moving podcast. Ahead, she explains why she's "daring" herself to speak more openly about her past, and why highlighting the areas of mental health that aren't often spoken about is so important.
"We will know someone who's been through psychosis or some sort of mental health problem. But what we don't often hear about is the strength and courage, and the way that people bounce back and grow from these things.
[My experience] was my normal for many, many years. But as soon as I came out of hospital in 2016, I was immediately unhappy. I mean, I was unhappy generally, but unhappy with what happened to me and the way the system works. Almost immediately, I started thinking about how I could tell this story. The difficulty was, at that time I was a recovering mental health patient, and nobody really wants to hear what a recovering mental health patient has to say about the system. So it took some time to work out how I was going to tell this story. It's taken a few years, but it's really satisfying.
It's not often you have a really frank conversation with someone about those sorts of experiences so [a lot of what I learned] was surprising for me but in a really nice way – which might sound odd, but it's always nice to finally have something in common with someone else, especially when it's something that is considered so unusual. As soon as Alika [a man who was sectioned twice in his early 20s] and I sat down and we'd both gone through the same things and had similarities in thought, there was an ease between us which was really nice.
I heard from quite a few people about how they didn't feel able to tell people what was actually going on with them. I now count myself very lucky that I have the ability to be very open. Without that, I don't think I would be where I am today. It's surprising and saddening that it's not necessarily the norm – people don't always feel comfortable enough to confide in people.
It was hard to see my best friend Em get upset. What I find more difficult than reflecting on the difficulties I went through is thinking about how it affected my loved ones. Having seen my own mum go through these sorts of breakdowns, I know how hard, scary, heartbreaking and sort of unexplainable it is to see someone close to you completely change and then be put in a position where you're doing something for them that, actually, you don't think is in their best interest, it's just what you have to do.
Now we need to be quite radically imaginative about how we think about people with these sorts of mental illnesses. The model we're working off is starting to seem pretty mediaeval. The other thing – and you can't get away from it – is funding from the NHS and mental health services in the community. I think we need to move further away from people being in institutions and much more towards people being looked after within their communities and frankly, that's expensive. But that's no reason not to move in that direction.
[Since doing the podcast] one thing I find is that I do still feel embarrassed and ashamed to talk about my experiences and in making the programme I almost feel like I've dared myself to be open. Like, I'm very open to people who know me well but not at all to people who don't know me. So it's almost like, by making the podcast and putting that out in a massive way in a big domain, I've given myself a dare to carry it out in my day-to-day life as well.
A lot of what we spoke about on the programme was just very sad. And I suppose it's not really changed my mind but just reinforced that we need to do better. A lot of the people I spoke to are incredible human beings with more strength than you can imagine, and creativity and resourcefulness and all that sort of thing, but life's dealt them the most difficult blow and [what we have right now] is not good enough."
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health condition, please visit Mind, call 0300 123 3393 or text 86463.