I got thinking about this a while back when reading a post by MJ about being put in a seclusion room while on a psych ward as a teenager. While seclusion is sometimes necessary for safety, I think serenity-promoting spaces could be more useful, at least in some cases.
In my last nursing job, which was at a concurrent disorders transitional facility, they had “serenity rooms” that were sometimes used if someone was particularly unwell and needed to be closer to staff. Mostly, though, they were used as a form of punishment, especially after instances of substance use, although the management and staff would adamantly deny that there was any punitive element. They weren’t seclusion rooms, and people weren’t locked into them, but they were pretty bare, with just a bed, a table, and a sink. They were low-stimulation, but there was nothing serene about them.
Low stimulation can be a good thing, but no stimulation is not. That’s why solitary confinement in prisons is so damaging to people with mental illness (source). There is some research to show that having sensory modulation rooms on psych units can reduce the use of seclusion and restraint and promote decreased agitation and better emotional regulation (sources: CHEOS, OT-Innovations).
I first heard of Snoezelen sensory rooms from Astrid of A Multitude of Musings. They include soothing or engaging stimuli targeting all of the senses, providing an immersive environment that supports sensory regulation. Snoezelen environments are used for people with autism, cognitive impairments, and a variety of other conditions to reduce agitation and anxiety and provide interesting stimuli for the senses.
Components used in Snoezelen environments include bubble tubes, fibre optics, screens with infinite depth lighted tunnels, tactile stimuli like textured, vibrating, or heated objects, essential oils, aroma dough, and auditory stimuli.
So, what might be useful to promote serenity for mental health purposes, either on psych wards or at home? Here are a few thoughts.
I’m a fan of weighted blankets. I got mine a year or two ago. It’s too heavy to use for sleep, but I like having it on top of my legs when I’m sitting in bed. I particularly like it if I’m feeling stressed out or agitated.
I’m also a fan of soft snuggly blankets. In the fall and winter, I like to keep my home cool and pile on the blankets to stay warm.
In my opinion, pets are the best things going in terms of tactile stimuli. My two baby guinea pigs are really silky soft and smooth.
I think this is the bare minimum that hospitals should be able to provide. Who doesn’t love nature sounds? Fountains or other water noises can also be really soothing.
I’m glad I live somewhere quiet and there’s lots of bird activity to listen to. I know music works well for a lot of people, but I find it hard to concentrate on other things when there’s music on.
Another basic minimum that hospitals should be providing is spaces with soft lighting rather than godawful fluorescent lights. Even better, throw in some lamps that change colour or Himalayan salt lamps. Lava lamps could also be a cool addition.
Plants are also good. I would have more plants if I didn’t have such a knack for killing them. My brother has lots of plants in his home, and it’s very soothing.
Posters of nature scenes would be a cheap way for hospitals to add visual appeal. Paint colour could also make a difference. At the massage therapy clinic I go to, the therapy rooms have fairly dark grey paint, and while it isn’t what I’d want at home, it does help to create a calm space.
Bring on the essential oils!
Over to you
Those are some of my ideas for serenity-promoting spaces, and many of them I’ve got going on in my bedroom, which is quite a soothing place to be.
What do you have to keep your own space serene, or what would you include in a serenity space?