Read aloud or translate

Why I volunteer: how being sectioned led Jackie to help others

30 May 2023

When you live through something like that, you want to give someone else the help you never had.”

My journey started about 4 years ago, and I’m still going through it.

In November 2019 I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer. Initially I was told it was treatable and curable, but in early January 2020 I was told it had spread to my bones. You can imagine – I was like a rabbit in the headlights.

I was a detective constable for Greater Manchester police with almost 20 years’ service, working all the hours and juggling a young family. My breast surgeon gave me a prognosis of two to three years. Then two months later: lockdown.

That’s when it really started for me. I felt like I was being harassed by all the letters from the government, the GP, hospital, telling me I was extremely clinically vulnerable. In July I had a feeling I can’t describe. I would call it a breakdown, though officially there’s no such thing – I was shaking, I was frightened.

We needed support as a family: it was me with the diagnosis but it affected everybody, especially during that dreadful period where so many people were isolated from each other.

A lot happened after that. I went for a mental health assessment in September and they told me to keep doing what I was doing: I was doing a lot of mindfulness, staying positive. The psycho-oncologist I saw 2 weeks later said the same, but by February I was on the ceiling, and I was desperate to get help for my family and me. 

The following Friday, my husband took the kids out of school and phoned the mental health team. I called the police asking for support to find the kids – then police and a mental health team came with a warrant. I thought, how on earth has this happened? 

I needed mental health support. To be incarcerated at that point was awful.

I was taken to a ward under section. I had full capacity, and I opted for an advocate – they gave me a form and I ticked the box – but no one came. I’m very aware of advocates like Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs) and Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs) through my job, but I’d never heard of an IMHA (Independent Mental Health Advocate). There was a poster for the advocacy provider on the wall and I called the number, but it was out of date.

If I’d have had an advocate, somebody there to hear my voice, I honestly believe my situation would’ve been different. I’ve never felt so lonely and so isolated.

I was there for 28 days. 

A lot went wrong in that time. It’s only because I knew what medication I was on for my cancer that I knew didn’t want to take some of the antipsychotic medication they wanted me to because of the side effects. They tried to give it to me anyway with my cancer medication. Once they were too busy to give me my cancer medication. I went to a tribunal and I didn’t have an advocate with me, just a nurse who didn’t know me – but the judge did her job, she kept me in pending a brain scan which she instructed was to be done as soon as possible, to rule out any possible organic cause. I was discharged after that was done. I saw and heard a patient banging her head on the floor of her room, she already had a black eye, and when I raised this with the nursing staff, I was instructed to return to my bedroom. Despite this, I went to give her a hug and consoled her like a child.

It hasn’t been easy since then. I’ve faced a lot of stigma, from professional bodies too, and just a few weeks after being discharged from hospital, I tragically suffered two very close family bereavements – but I am still a very positive and strong person. The cancer is currently stable, and showing signs of healing. Things aren’t great but I’m a stronger person now. 

Becoming a volunteer

It sounds cheesy, but I want to turn a negative experience into something positive. It’s giving me purpose.

I’ve not worked for 3 and a half years, and you’ve got to keep your brain busy. I love helping people. I worked so much before, I loved what I did.

This is giving me my confidence back, my independence and my identity back a little bit.

When you live through something like that, you want what you never had but you know could help someone else. I was googling how to become an IMHA, I got in touch with the provider I’d tried to call before and they said the best way is training on the job.

I want to do at least 6 months of voluntary, and my goal, my dream, is to become an IMHA. It’s been a terrible experience, but on the ward, I thought: I’m going to come back here and help – the staff as well. When they see me with my volunteer ID badge – that’s my goal. 

I’ve really enjoyed the training. I love learning, I’ve done nothing but read for the last 3 years. I’ve been searching for answers. 

I was frightened of being open and honest, the fear of being judged – but Jacqui [VoiceAbility’s volunteer manager] said lived experience is great, and that meant so much to me.

As long as my physical health prevails, I’m ready. I can’t wait to get stuck in.

Volunteering with VoiceAbility

Jackie is just one of the dedicated volunteers who give their time to help us be there when it matters most.

VoiceAbility is a voice and rights charity, and a provider of independent advocacy. We work to empower people to be heard in decisions about their health, care and wellbeing. 

Our volunteers come from all backgrounds, and we care more about your values and your empathy than your academic qualifications.