Ex-traffic warden remembers traumatic day she was sectioned but says ‘times have changed’

Deborah Williams was frogmarched in handcuffs to a psychiatric ward in the 1990s but says attitudes

Deborah Williams was frogmarched in handcuffs to a psychiatric ward in the 1990s but says attitudes towards mental health have changed - Credit: Archant

As part of the Newham Recorder’s Minds Matter mental health campaign, EMMA YOULE spoke with an ex-traffic warden about the dramatic day she was first taken to a psychiatric hospital and asks whether attitudes have changed over time.

Deborah Williams still has a vivid memory of the day police in full body armour stormed her Newham flat after she stripped naked and began hurtling her belongings out of the window.

At the time in the mid 1990s, the former traffic warden knew little about mental health and had not recognised the strain she was under.

A dispute with her landlord had triggered the episode at a difficult time in Deborah’s life after the death of her parents.

The 56-year-old, of Burgess Road, Stratford, said: “The police officers came in and they were dressed in body armour, helmets, padded up like they were going to war.

“They put some clothes on me, put me in handcuffs, frogmarched me downstairs and put me in the back of an ambulance.

“The next thing I know I was put on a ward. They asked me a lot of questions and then I found out I was mentally sectioned.”

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She was later diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which causes a person to experience a combination of schizophrenia symptoms, such as delusions, and mood disorder symptoms, such as mania or depression.

The traumatic way she was first taken to hospital is recognised as the worst way to access treatment for a mental health condition for the first time.

But it is less common today as people are encouraged to seek help for mental health problems before reaching a crisis.

Deborah has never needed to return to hospital since this episode. She now works as a receptionist at the mental health charity Inuf and has even sat on interview panels at Newham Psychological Therapies service.

She believes attitudes towards mental illness are changing.

“The fact that Frank Bruno had a mental health problem, Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax, high profile people have talked about mental health and people are changing their perceptions. It has shown that anybody can have mental health problems.”