A few days ago, the owner of a blindness and mental health E-mail group I am on started a discussion about comfort rooms. Commonly, they’re seen as a kind of less restrictive alternative to seclusion or restraint, but this is a misconception. I have personally experienced being placed in the comfort room and not allowed to come out. Being blind, I also didn’t really notice the comfort room atmosphere, which should be relaxing. In all honesty, the comfort room at the locked ward in the big city institution I was in, was little more than a beautified seclusion room. While the comfort room at my current ward in the small town institution is more calming in its ambiance, I still sometimes get told that I can go into the comfort room in a tone of voice as if I’m being secluded.
In reality, comfort rooms are but one form of relaxation for an irritable patient. For others, going for a walk, listening to music or exercising on a stationary bike might help. I can see why nurses choose the comfort room over some of its alternatives, for a patient in a comfort room requires relatively little care. That is, they are presumed to require relativley little care. All five or so times I spent in comfort rooms, once in my current institution and about four times in the city one, I was left alone whether I wanted to be alone or could safely be alone or not. In this sense, the Netherlands is different from other countries, where patients in crisis are placed under special observation. Here, if you need more care than the staff can provide, you’ll be placed in seclusion or “seclusion light”, ie. the comfort room.
A key aspect of introducing comfort rooms, is that they need to be embedded in a philosophy where the patient is actively engaged in their treatment. Time in the comfort room needs to be a choice. I for one find the comfort room particularly ineffective, and would rather go for a walk or exercise. One reason why I find the comfort room ineffective, besides having been coerced into using it, is accessibility. I didn’t have a clue what was in the comfort room, so was essentially just seated on a couch or chair. Granted, the couch in my current ward’s comfort room is actually comfortable, but the chairs in the city institution comfort room were definitely not. I recommend staff acquaint patients, especially blind ones, with the comfort room at time they’re not irritable and maybe they’ll need to assist the patient sometimes again when they’re using the comfort room for relaxation for the first few times. Staff may not like this, as many view the comfort room as a convenient way not to have to bother with irritable patients while looking like saints for avoiding seclusion. However, seclusion is not a substitute for proper care, and neither is the comfort room.