The memories will haunt me

Today’s guest author is Charlie.

Charlie is an 18-year-old person navigating the struggles of dealing with Autism, Anorexia Nervosa Restricting Type, Major Depression, and four learning differences. Charlie has firsthand seen the care, professionalism, love, and dedication of those in the mental health care field, and they have also seen the horrors of restraint and seclusion.

I have been on multiple adolescent inpatient psychiatric units and, as a result, have seen the use of seclusion and restraint. I will forever live with the memories of seeing people restrained on the restraint bed and in the seclusion room. Those memories will continue to haunt me for the rest of my life. While I was inpatient, the staff (thankfully) used it correctly when a patient was at risk of serious injury or death to themselves or others. To hear about how it is used for the convenience of staff, especially in schools and educational centers, disgusts me. I have a few close friends who have either been restrained or have been force-fed, and I think it has its place, but we need to be MUCH more cautious about how it is used and to use every possible alternative before putting people through this. We have to help those who cannot help themselves.

I have trauma and PTSD from my inpatient admissions. Nothing can take away the memories of seeing someone violently bang their head into a desk only to see them be restrained by two nurses and sedated and placed into restraints. Nothing can take away the memory of hearing a friend of mine on the unit smashing their head into the wall and hearing their scream as they were restrained. Nothing can take away the memory of seeing someone punch a wall so hard that it blew through the drywall, and they called a code called for it. Nothing can take these experiences away from me, and nothing will. These have and will be with me for the rest of my life.

It’s traumatizing to see when it is used correctly, as they did on my unit, thankfully. I can only imagine what it does to people when they are placed in seclusion or restraints out of convenience for staff.

The Chicago Tribune did a piece, and it makes me sick to hear and know that that happened to people just like me. I have Autism, and to know that people like me are having this process applied to them when they were upset or not having their needs met or just having a bad day because of something seemingly small and yet have a massive impact on people deeply angers and upsets me. I know for me that little things, like having someone tell me that I talk too fast or didn’t know that a word carried a connotation beyond its objective meaning, can make me cry. In my experience, hearing feedback on seemingly small things has led me to cry or attempt suicide and to scratch or cut or burn or bang my head against the wall as hard as I can to get out of the emotional pain that others aren’t privy to. Just because a staff member at a school thinks that something is “minor” doesn’t mean that it is.

We in the mental health community have incredible capacities to connect with people and experience things on a level that few can or ever will, yet that’s the crux. We feel and see and hear and live experiences that are seemingly insignificant, and because the staff at a school or treatment facility or inpatient unit where restraint and/or seclusion is used liberally, they don’t get why things are happening. They can’t use it correctly even if they wanted to. Work ought to be done to understand the clinical relevancy, efficacy, and effectiveness, safety, effects on emotional wellbeing and mental health, impacts on staff who have to apply the use of restraint or seclusion (both those who use it as a tool to keep people safe and to make sure that they ARE safe, and to those who don’t care and don’t understand and don’t know what it’s like and use it out of convenience or laziness as a way to make work more “easy.” We need to find better ways to apply seclusion and restraint when it is the only viable, efficacious option to help someone keep themselves safe when they are dysregulated. Our moral and implicit obligation is to see that this work is carried out in nonpartisan, independent, controlled, and well-designed and run studies whose work will be peer-reviewed before being put into use in facilities.

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