Time-Out Rooms, Comfort Rooms, Snoezelen® Rooms: Special Care Rooms in Mental Health and Disability Services #31Days2021 #Blogtober21

Today, I’m not feeling too inspired. The optional word prompt for the 31-day writing challenge is “Comfort”. For some reason, probably the fact that I’ve been experiencing a lot of flashbacks to my time in the mental hospital lately, I was immediately reminded of comfort rooms. Then I thought, maybe I could use this post to raise some awareness of the different kinds of special care rooms used in mental health and disability services.

Back in my early days in the mental hospital in 2007, seclusion or isolation was pretty commonly the only intervention used, maybe in combination with forced medication, on disruptive patients. I was initially admitted to the locked ward only because the open ward had no available beds. During my first night in the hospital, I heard a lot of screaming and was later told that the staff “handled it appropriately”. Another patient told me that the screaming patient pretty much lived in the seclusion room. I was pretty scared out of my mind.

Once moved from my parents’ city hospital to my own city’s locked ward, I again experienced seclusion as a witness repeatedly. The ward I stayed on, was the less restrictive locked ward, so it didn’t have isolation rooms. Rather, ours were called time-out rooms, but that didn’t make them any better to be honest.

I experienced one hour forced time-out once, three months into my mental hospital stay. After that though, it was used as a threat repeatedly. This, for clarity’s sake, is illegal: seclusion can only be used to avert danger, not as punishment.

About three years into my mental hospital stay, some wards, particularly locked wards, started deconstructing their seclusion rooms and repurposing them as “comfort rooms”. A comfort room in theory looked nicer, as it had soft toys in it and maybe some special lighting. However, them being repurposed seclusion rooms did mean they still had the vibe of isolation about them. Indeed, the few times I was sent to the locked ward for a time-out once at the open resocialization ward, I spent my time in the “comfort room”. This did not feel comforting at all.

My last psych ward, which I spent four years on between 2013 and 2017, had both a comfort room and a time-out room. This comfort room was indeed actually comforting. There was an essential oil diffuser, a CD player, comfy couch and a few other things. What made it different though was the fact that you couldn’t be locked up into it. If you were to be locked up, it’d have to be in the time-out room.

At the end of my psych hospital stay, I first learned about snoezelen®. This, like I’ve explained before, is a method of helping people with significant intellectual or developmental disabilities by modulating their entire sensory environment. I wanted to experience what a snoezelen® room would be like. My psych hospital had an intellectual disability unit with a room like this, but my psychologist refused to let me visit it, claiming I’m far too capable for this type of activity. I stood my ground and got a place at my first day center with my current agency, which did have a snoezelen® room.

When I was at my first day center with my current care agency, the snoezelen® room was sometimes used as a time-out room for me, in that I was forced to go in there when I was irritable and not allowed to come out. Though the door couldn’t be locked, it did feel intensely triggering to me. It is one reason I still struggle to be in my current day center’s snoezelen® room if no staff is present.

Of course, I must say here that an old-fashioned time-out room has hardly any furniture: just a bed and a stool, both attached to the floor, as well as a toilet made of metal. The seclusion room the screaming patient from my first night in the hospital was locked into, was likely even worse. Comfort and snoezelen® or other sensory rooms are much better. Still, the idea that someone can be put into solitary confinement against their will, is rather disturbing if you ask me.

Nuts! #SoCS

I first heard about the details of the Care and Force Act in the Netherlands a few days ago through a fellow mental health advocate. I’d heard of the bill being passed before, but never quite understood or cared what it entailed. Now I know, from both her opposing side and thesupporting side, namely my own long-term care organization.

As it turns out, the Care and Force Act impacts everyone who receives mental health or developmental disabilities services, whether voluntarily or not. Before this law, only those committed involuntarily to a psychiatric hospital, psychogeriatric nursing home or intellectual disability facility, could be subjected to involuntary care. Now, basically everyone who receives (or, I assume, is supposed to receive) care for a mental illness or developmental disability, can be subjected to involuntary care. Yes, even if you live at home. Support staff are allowed by this law to enter someone’s home without their permission and hold them down there, force medications on them, install cameras for monitoring the client, etc.

This all sounds pretty nuts to me. Of course, that’s what said mental health advocate said too. My care facility says that forced care is not allowed unless… and then they go on to list the law’s reasons involuntary care is allowed. This is a long list, including obvious reasons such as self-harm or aggression, but also “endangerment of the person’s development”. Well, WTF?

I understand the well-meaning intentions behind the law. For example, a client with Prader-Willi Syndrome, which makes them eat and drink without inhibition, can be prevented from accessing sources of food or drink. The long-term care facility said in this case (in a flyer by my care organization) they’d decided to disable the client’s bathroom tap so that they cannot drink like 5 liters of water at night. However, quite possibly, this could be affecting people like me who suffer with compulsive overeating. I am sensible in that I try to ask for help in preventing binges, but I mean, I’ve heard clients being told not to enter the kitchen because they eat lots of cookies and are prediabetic. Well, this is physical health, which I understand on at least some level. But isn’t this whole bill meant to make us all conform to the non-disabled standards of “normalcy” whether we want to or not?

And besides, there are huge budget cuts to mental health and disability services, so will this bill not just be used to facilitate lower levels of actually helpful care?

For example, I could in a worst-case scenario be confined to my bed at night so that I have fewer reasons to bother the night staff when I go to bed later than most other clients. Or I could be banned from using Facebook or the Internet altogether during certain times of the day for reasons such as my needing to socialize more, study, or whatever. Like I said, danger to one’s development is a grounds for forced care.

In theory, the law doesn’t sound too bad, but I can imagine treatment providers such as the ones in the mental hospital, whom I couldn’t trust, can misuse this law for very harmful purposes. Does this mean anyone deemed nuts or dumb, to use some slurs, is at the mercy of the so-called helping profession? It’s crazy!

This post is written for #SoCS, for which the prompt this week is “Nuts”.