Woman’s 4-year fight to free autistic brother, 27, ‘locked away’ in mental health unit

An autistic man who was “locked away” for more than four years in a controversial mental health unit has finally been released.

Elliot Dodds, 27, was held in a section of a psychiatric institution after his mental health deteriorated in April 2018.

He was diagnosed with autism and epilepsy and had been living at home with his family before he was admitted to the institution.

The institution was known as an assessment treatment unit (ATU) and is for people with learning disabilities who may have mental ill health or if their behaviour is changing.

After four years, Elliot’s family were delighted to be reunited with him.

His sister Beckii Davis, 29, thought Elliot would return home within “a few weeks”. However, there was a dispute about Elliot’s care which forced him to remain in the hospital.

Beckii says she endured a “four-year battle” to get her brother released.

A trial period took place in the community, then Elliot was officially discharged to his own home with the support of carers in August this year.

Beckii said: “When Elliot was admitted to hospital we hoped he’d receive the help he needed and would be home within a few weeks. Never did we think this would turn into a four year battle.

“My emotions are all over the place now that Elliot has been released. There have been a lot of upsetting and tearful times over the last few years but it means everything to have Elliot in his new home.”

Beckii, believes that the time her brother has spent in isolation has negatively impacted his mental and physical health.

She said: “The last few years have been incredibly difficult for everyone but particularly Elliot. Seeing him in hospital, locked away from the world and how he was deteriorating was traumatic.

“While he has complex needs, nobody deserves to be treated in that way. He had no quality of life whatsoever.”

Unfortunately, Elliot’s situation is not unique. At the end of June 2022, just over 2,000 people were detained in units, with 1,120 people having a total length of stay of over two years, figures from NHS Digital show.

Kirsty Stuart, a lawyer at Irwin supports relatives in ATU, says Elliot’s experiences are becoming more commonplace.

“What happened to Elliot has been incredibly upsetting, not only for him but also his family,” she said.

“Despite previous pledges to reduce the number of autistic people and those with a learning disability being detained, far too many continue to be held in ATUs.”

Kirsty has noticed that the number of people in ATUs has sadly been increasing and is calling on the government to reduce the number of people detained in them.

She said: “Behind every statistic is a heart-breaking story of how families are being kept apart and how those detained continue to be denied the right to a home and a family life.”

As Elliot settles at home, his sister Beckii has seen Elliot’s confidence growing every day. She has made plans to take him out on some trips to the seaside.

“He’s settling into his new surroundings well and growing in confidence every day.

He’s already been for a day out at the seaside and he’s made me a list of everything he wants to do.”