Tag Archives: Restraint

R – #AtoZChallenge on Mental Health

Welcome to the #AtoZChallenge on mental health, day 18. Today’s letter is R. Enjoy.

Recovery

Recovery is the patient-led process of learning to live a fulfilling life with or beyond one’s mental illness. It may mean overcoming one’s mental health problems, but recovery is also for people with lifelong mental illness. It is related to rehabilitation, which I’ll discuss below, but recovery is led by patients.

Like I said when discussing experience and jobs, I have participated in a recovery group. In these groups, people discuss different topics related to getting their lives on track. For example, we discuss sources of support, pitfalls in our recovery, our relation with our treatment providers, etc.

Rehabilitation

Rehablitation is the staff-led process of helping patients live a meaningful life with or beyond their mental illness. Rehabilitation has the patients’ wishes in mind but still is led by staff. It is a common belief, and I’m not entirely sure whether this is correct or not, tht rehabilitation is linked to resocialization, which I’ll discuss hereafter. As such, a patient’s wishes might only be the focus of staff support if they flow towards independence.

Resocialization

Resocialization is the process of going back to a less restrictive treatment setting or back into the community after institutional treatment. It may also refer to independence-focused training in general. Resocialization units in psychiatric hospitals usually allow patients to stay there for a specific time period, usually two years. Rehabilitation units in long-term care may be focused on further independence too, but they have more flexible guidelines on how long a person can stay there.

Restraint

Restraint is the physical, mechanical or chemical restriction of a person’s movement. Holding someone down or tying someone onto a bed are often recognized as restraint, but giving a person a high dose of an antipsychotic or benzodiazepine to tranquilize them is a form of restraint too. Restraint, like seclusion, can only be used to avert the patient being a danger to themself or others. In the Netherlands, mechanical restriants are hardly ever used in psychiatric hospitals. They were up till recently commonly used in nursing homes on patients with dementia who run a risk of falling, but I believe regulations have changed on this. Chemical restraints are still used, though not as often here as in other countries.

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Comfort Rooms: Not a Convenient Alternative to Seclusion

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.

Disciplining the Autistic Child

Many autistic people, if not all, exhibit challenging behavior, such as anger, aggression, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and sterotypical (self-stimulatory) behaviors. Whether and how you intervene with these behaviors, depends on their function. Autistic children exhibit normal childhood misbehavior too. For example, they may nag and tantrum when you won’t give them candy, refuse to tidy their room, or be rude. This behavior can be punished in the same ways that you would use for a same-age typical child, such as by time-out, loss of computer or TV time, etc. Take into account that some consequences may not work for your child. For example, an aloof autistic may find time-out comforting, and most autistics do not get non-verbal cues. Therefore, even with an older child, you need to say explicitly that you are disapproving of their behavior. You also need to make sure the autistic child understands what they are punished for. If they are rude, for example, explain what they said that was rude, how they can make amends, and what they need to do differently the next time. When sending a child to their room, onto the naughty chair, etc., make sure they understand when they can come back. I was often sent to my room and stayed there for hours because I didn’t know when it was okay to come back. Don’t tell a child to come back when they “can behave”. Instead, set a specific time or make concrete rules on what they must do to come back.

As I said, whether and how you intervene with your autistic child’s behavior, depends on its function. Often, a function is presumed based on typical chhild development. For example, suppose your child refuses to tidy their room. You assume they are defiant or lazy, but do they know how to tidy their room? Even if you’ve shown them before or they’ve helped, you cannot expect all autistics to know when or how to do their own tidying or cleaning. I remember when I went to live independently out of an independence training home, my support worker told my knew staff that I knew how to clean. I did, but I had no idea where to start in my new apartment. This may in part be due to blindness, but even as I became familiar with my apartment, I still didn’t know how to organize my cleaning.

Then there are those behaviors that are often due to autism, such as sensory overreactivity, self-stim, or meltdowns. Give yoru child a time and place to engage in self-stim or compulsions, of course with the premise that they won’t damage property or harm themself or others. In 2007, when I was diagnosed with autism, my diagnostician told me that I really needed to unlearn to twirl my hair. Indeed, my parents had told me countless times that I needed to stop this behavior. While it is true that it is annoying and distracting to others, autistics need to be allowed their time to stim. Home is where a child should be safe to be themself. When talking about self-stim and how annoying it is when it’s an autistic doing it, I often refer to a lecture I was going to in college prep. Two students were modeliing appropriate and inappropriate communication skills in their filed. One of them was constantly clicking his pen, and I was assuming at first that this was meant to be inappropriate. It wasn’t. My point is, neurotypical people stim too.

When an autistic person becomes aggressive, be it verbally or physically, you need to intervene. However, it is still important to recognize the function of the aggression. For example, if a child constantly screams or hits when there’s loud noise, screaming at them to stop, will make it worse. Time-out in a quiet place where the child can rage away may be the most appropriate intervention. I strongly disagree with locking up an aggressive person in their time-out area unless there is no other way (except for restraint) to get them to stop. Locking the child up should never be used as a threat or for punitive purposes, and I doubt its effectiveness for verbal aggression. That may be my blindness though, as verbal aggression to me is as scary if it happens in the locked room next door. As for restraint (physically holding the child down), that’s only okay if a person is physically aggressive towards people.

One important point I want to make to finish off: be mindful of your own feelings when handling your autistic child. The moment you start feeling powerlessness or feel you’re going to lose your temper, step back. My parents often lost their temper with me, and this usually only made the situation much worse. I won’t say that you can always feel calm when handling your autistic child’s behavior, but strong emotions can be best handled away from your likely already distressed child.