Because I’m still recovering from a really bad depression episode, something light today. A curiosity? No, fashion! Real fashion! I want to show you the latest trend in anti-suicide garments. For use both in prisons and in mental hospitals.
It all began long ago with the well-known straitjacket. Introduced about 1780 in the Paris Asylum de Bicêtre, it soon became a popular means of restriction in 19th-century madhouses. In a straitjacket, the patient could not move his arms or use his hands. Although this was primarily meant to contain aggressive patients, it was also very often used with depressed, suicidal patients: to prevent them from hurting themselves.
This photo from about 1910 shows the escape artist and contortionist Harry Houdini in a standard straitjacket. Houdini was famous for his unique and sensational escape acts. Locked and fettered in all possible ways (for example in an underwater barrel) he always managed to free himself in miraculous ways. The simple straitjacket he is featuring here would not have restrained him for long.
But how do we dress suicidal patients today? For an answer, I consulted the online catalog of Weizel Security, a company that provides thousands of prisons and hospitals in the USA and Canada with all kinds of security products. One section in their catalog is SR: Suicide Resistant things. They offer not just SR walls, doors, plumbing, furniture and blankets. They really have everything you can think of, up to a Suicide Resistant Toothbrush: a handle-less brush that you plug on your fingertip, so your own finger is the handle. Or a “breathing” paper garbage bag, one that you cannot use to suffocate yourself.
Today, we no longer dress suicidal patients to restrain them: we dress them in such a way that their clothing (like the rest of their environment) offers them no practical means to kill themselves with. No buttons. No belts. For this reason the standard Suicide Resistant clothing, the one we know in fact since the 1950s, has always vaguely resembled a classic jumpsuit.
The little picture here shows the SR Suicide Watch Suit offered by Weizel. It has (quote) “Heavy Weight 100% Cotton Denim, Velcro Front Closure, Unibody Construction, Short Sleeves & Legs, No Pockets”. You can order it in two equally cheerful colors: either bright orange or brighter yellow.
But there also is another option, a much more modern and radical alternative: the very latest in anti-suicide fashion. Just like the classic Suicide Watch Suit it will not restrain you. But this new version leaves you even less ways to kill yourself.
One of the remaining problems with standard clothing was that a patient may still devise ways to tear it and/or roll it up, so it might still be possible to use the fabric as an improvised rope to hang yourself. The latest version completely eliminates this risk. It is designed as (I quote again) a “quilted, sleeveless gown with adjustable velcro openings” made from “heavy nylon cordura with 6oz poly fiberfill”. This “reduces ability to roll into a cord”, meaning the garment “reduces ligature risk inherent in standard patient clothing”.
Here it is. The SR SafeSupport Safety Smock:
The first time I saw this picture, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry: this state-of-the-art “Safety Smock” looks utterly ridiculous and at the same time so very, very sad. According to the Weizel catalog, it “provides modesty and safety”. Sure, and I really didn’t expect style or elegance, but what about a little human dignity? If you ask me, there’s none left here. None at all.
There’s a lot more we could say about this, not just about this Safety Smock suicide prevention concept itself – or about the limited vision behind it. This photo presentation also raises its own questions. For example, can you explain why they picked these two people to figure as models in this picture? Why do they both have this wild, uncombed hair? What is their facial expression supposed to tell us? Well, I happily leave the answering of all such curious questions to your own intelligence.
I sincerely hope, dear reader, that however bad your depression, you will never end up wearing this modern Safety Smock. If this were to happen to me, my Safety Smock would be just one more reason to feel suicidal.
• question: Talking about being restrained, what is the ultimate straitjacket? Right. That’s our depression itself.
Try teaching yourself a few dirty tricks to wriggle out of the straps. Like a Houdini. It can be done!
What dirty tricks? See many of the tips at the bottom of other posts in this blog.