David Whitwell

Assessed under Section 136


at first tears   too angry to speak

irritated by my presence  then fragments

a disjointed story   a world closing down

pain all around   like the headache I’m getting now

I can see you’ve no way out 

no reason to go on living

and all that was left

was the hope you had of ending it all

I get it   I believe you

though I know you don’t believe a word I say 


and I ask myself again   why do this

put myself forward   pretending I can help

why should people go on living anyway

getting up   going to work   what is the point

there is no reason   no logic to it at all

it’s an argument I cannot win


I see you’re looking out of the window

do you know how useless I’m feeling now

you look at me for the first time  and ask me what I do

do I often talk to people who just want to die


and it’s a chink   you’ve invited me to talk

even saying I have no answer makes a bridge

reasoned arguments have failed

it’s time to confess

I’ve nothing to set against the things you’ve told me

I can’t persuade you of anything


and yet   I have been down this way before

I’ve sat and listened  head in hands  eyes down

felt this bad thing in the room before

and then against the odds people survive

time makes a difference

allows new things to happen

I have seen many come back from this

so they can live again  

don’t know how  don’t know why

but it happens


this I do know

Section 136 of the Mental Health Act allows the police to take someone whose 
mental state is posing a risk to themself or others to a place of safety where they can be assessed - work which the author did for many years.          


This is a dark poem about a dark subject. It is meant to include some of what I learnt from the many desperate people, detained under section 136, who I interviewed over the years. My conclusion was that there is almost always hope.

It is a painful process, entering into the thoughts and feelings of people who are in such a  dark place. But somehow I found that the sharing of a small portion of that darkness was necessary to finding a way forward. It can be challenging and I came to believe that there is no reason or logic  to why people should want to go on living, it is just something that usually rises up from within. It may temporarily be beaten down and almost gone completely, but it does return. Nearly always.

In those interviews, carried out in hospitals or police stations or people’s own homes, this was something I could hold onto. It was something that I knew, while the person going through hell did not. Usually some way forward could be worked out and by the end there was a feeling of relief, even hope.


It is now five years since I retired but the memory of those encounters is still vivid.