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The Personal Safety Zone: A technique used in psychiatric hospitals is becoming the norm in our society

Dr. Patricia Farrell
Mar 24 · 4 min read
Photo by Chalo Garcia on Unsplash

Stand no closer than the length of your arm or two floor tiles away,” shouted the instructor in our introductory orientation to life in a psychiatric hospital. “It is your personal safety zone, and it could protect you from an attack by a patient.

The warning set an uneasy tone with we newbies to psychiatric hospital life, but it would prove to be something we wouldn’t forget. Older employees were well aware of the rule and adhered to it religiously, but we new ones had to learn hard lessons.

An associate, feeling foolishly safe, didn’t abide by the rule. He had his glasses pulled from his face, his shirt ripped from his chest, and was almost thrown down a flight of stairs. After that, he looked down at those floor tiles and was always on the ready to quickly step backward.

Often the safety zone couldn’t be maintained, as when we were seated at a desk in an office. There we learned other variants of the safety zone. “Never put your back to the wall. Always have the open door at your back,” was that imperative. A psychiatrist failed to recall that bit of valuable information.

Seated at her desk with her back to the wall, she looked up to see a patient swinging a heavy purse toward her bowed head. The bag contained a thick religious book that added weight and danger to the next blow.

Once struck with the bag, the physician, who was thrown backward against the wall, had the obese patient flying over the desk and landing on her with punishing blows to the upper body. The psychiatrist would need time off, and the patient would be transferred to another forensic facility.

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

How Does This Apply to All of Us?

The Covid-19 is the new potential danger for all of us. No longer do we need to think it lies in wait in some settings and not others; it is everywhere. The personal safety rule is no longer two floor tiles, it is six feet away, and there are other rules not to be forgotten or seen as foolish paranoid thinking.

Failure to abide by the six-foot rule, and you place yourself and everyone with whom you come in contact. The contact may prove fatal, and you may never know you were the carrier, but you will wonder.

Social distancing means protecting the lives of all around you and acting as a responsible citizen of this country. Yes, it means a loss of quasi-intimacy as well as the handshake, the hug, the kiss on the cheek, and too much handwashing to be counted. But is physicality that much a part of our society that we can’t forego it to protect lives? It’s an interesting question.

The Lack of Touch

Research has shown that the lack of touch with children can have a deleterious effect on the child’s personality and intellectual growth. How can we make up for that? Will kind words suffice or not? It’s possible only to speculate because research of this type would be unethical

Touch solidifies a sense of bond, friendship, belonging, trust, and the handshake says it all. For now, we must consider elbow bumps, and even there, we are not sure the virus isn’t lurking in the cloth.

We know Covid-19 is resistant to being wiped out and does not quickly lose its power; it can live on surfaces for as long as a day.

A recent study found that the COVID-19 coronavirus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. The researchers also found that this virus can hang out as droplets in the air for up to three hours before they fall. But most often they will fall more quickly.” It does not magically disappear after any interaction. Covid-19 hangs on for longer than we would want, and it is virulent during that time.

Forget Etiquette and Save Lives

It is time to toss the Miss Manners book of etiquette aside and adhere to new rules to protect ourselves and everyone else. Edith Wharton may have provided excruciating detail on protocol and raised her eyebrows a bit, but I think she’d have understood.

What can substitute for a handshake or a hug or a kiss on the cheek? Try a broad smile, a word of welcome, and, possibly, a few words on why you are distant.

We are in the fight for life, and we can’t forget it. Fail to follow the rules for Covid-19, and people will die, perhaps one of us. Keep that foremost in your mind as you interact with others now.

Mental Health Lived Experience

Dr. Patricia Farrell

Written by

Dr. Farrell is a psychologist, WebMD consultant, SAG/AFTRA member, author, interested in film, writing & health. Website: http://t.co/VT8mvcAvRz

Mental Health Lived Experience

Articles and Stories from people who have experienced mental health conditions and treatment

Dr. Patricia Farrell

Written by

Dr. Farrell is a psychologist, WebMD consultant, SAG/AFTRA member, author, interested in film, writing & health. Website: http://t.co/VT8mvcAvRz

Mental Health Lived Experience

Articles and Stories from people who have experienced mental health conditions and treatment

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