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What It's Like to Be Restrained in a Psychiatric Hospital

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Unfortunately, I’m one of the many people across the world who has been subject to a restraint whilst in a mental health facility. I’ve been threatened with restraints, been in arm holds, been fully restrained the floor with talks of IMs and been held in place in a sitting position to stop me from moving. 90 percent of the times this happened it was to stop me from hurting myself, and sometimes possibly even saved my life. But that doesn’t make it any nicer. For those of you lucky enough to have not experienced it, I want to explain what it feels like.

Imagine being so distressed that all you can think about is hurting yourself — having staff members surrounding you, urging you to stop so they don’t have to lay hands on you, but in that moment you don’t care. They won’t do it. And if they do, they won’t be able to stop you.

Within seconds you hear an alarm and have a person on either side of you gripping your arm so tight it hurts.

That’s when the adrenaline kicks in and you start darting in any direction you can, trying to wiggle out.

You’ll hear shouts and pleas of “stop moving” and “please stop resisting,” but now you’re angry that they’re trying to stop you and you increase the fight even more.

Suddenly you’re closing in on the floor and you’re sat with staff surrounding you from all sides, ready to go down.

“This is your last chance, please stop struggling and try to calm down or we’ll take you to the floor.”

But you’re not having it; you try to jump up and run but there’s instantly four more staff members closing in.

You’re shouting and crying for them to get off and leave you alone to die.

Then you’re on the floor, a staff member on each arm, trying to hold your hand and calm you down whilst trapping your arm between their legs so you can’t wiggle out.

Staff members on your legs to stop you from trying to jolt upwards and to stop you from running.

A staff member at your head, stroking it gently trying to say soothing words and get the tears to stop.

Minutes go by, which feel like hours — screaming, wiggling, begging them to let you go.

Then the head nurse kneels down next to you: “Final offer, will you take the medication orally or do we have to get an injection ready?”

By this point, the screaming and shouting have turned into sobs and you’re not struggling as much. “Oral,” you managed to say between cries of hopelessness.

A few minutes later she reappears and you’re sat up, staff still holding your legs down and gripping onto your arms.

One lets go, ever so slightly, to enable you to take the medication, but stays there.

For the next five minutes you’re sat in silence, staff still lightly holding you in case your episode isn’t quite over.

Another five minutes pass and you’re allowed to get up, but are followed by a team of six, and will be for another five minutes following that, “Just to be on the safe side.’

Ten minutes later, you’re curled in a chair just outside the nurse’s office, wondering just how you managed to get to this point.

That experience is of one of the “nicer” restraints I’ve been in — one with an understanding team who knew how to de-escalate me.

But not all have been so understanding and gentle.

Restraints are awful situations to be in, for both the people initiating it and the person being restrained. They’ve come under a lot of speculation lately, some of which I can understand. I’ve been in restraints that have left nasty bruises and twisted limbs, people yelling at me and holding me incorrectly, and even restrained for no reason at all, simply because “they could.” So, while I agree that sometimes a restraint is needed to ensure someone’s immediate safety, there needs to be much tighter guidelines on them. A restraint should always be a last resort, not a show of power from ignorant nursing staff or a way to control a “problematic patient.” A restraint should be a way to save someone’s life.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic

Originally published: June 7, 2017
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