An Innovation in Suicide Prevention

I gave Psychiatry Grand Rounds yesterday at the University of Arkansas Medical School in Little Rock. During the tour of the beautiful, modern and environmentally-state of the art Psychiatric Research Institute, I was impressed by something called a “suicide resistant door”.

One of the challenges of inpatient psychiatric services is that while you want to give patients privacy and insulation from noise, putting doors in their rooms carries risk. The problem is that the hard top of good strong door will support the weight of a patient who hangs him or herself (e.g., by stringing twisted bedsheets around the throat).

The ingenious doors at the Psychiatric Research Institute were solid to the touch, but a triangular section of wood at the top right of the door is inset in a slot within the rest of the structure. This triangular section rests on an interior support that can only take 5 pounds of pressure. If you put any more pressure that that on the door top, the triangular piece collapses into the interior, making the top of the door angled, smooth and virtually impossible to hang oneself on.

Brilliant innovation, props to the Institute for adopting it. May many other psychiatric facilities follow suit.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

3 thoughts on “An Innovation in Suicide Prevention”

  1. How many patients typically hang themselves on a door? I’m curious because at something in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars a door (my guess based on prices for good-quality exterior doors) this would be an expense not undertaken lightly. And I’m assuming it’s resettable, for the same reason.

    Good on them for thinking of something not just simple but also unobtrusive.

  2. Paul: It can be reset immediately and easily. Hanging on doors has become more common as other methods have been taken away by technological advances (e.g., breakaway shower heads).

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