Seclusion versus mechanical restraint in psychiatry - a systematic review

Acta Neuropsychiatr. 2019 Oct;31(5):237-245. doi: 10.1017/neu.2019.22.


Objective: Seclusion and mechanical restraint are coercive interventions used at psychiatric hospitals when patients are at imminent risk of harming themselves and/or others. Although these interventions have been used for decades, it remains unclear whether seclusion or mechanical restraint is superior in terms of efficacy and safety. Therefore, we aimed to systematically review studies comparing the intended and unintended effects of seclusion and mechanical restraint.

Methods: A systematic search of PubMed and Embase was conducted in adherence to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guideline. Quantitative studies comparing the intended and unintended effects of seclusion and mechanical restraint were included.

Results: The search identified 868 unique records. Fourteen of these (3 reporting on randomized controlled trials and 11 reporting on observational studies) met the predefined inclusion criteria. The study methodology including outcome measures varied significantly across studies. The results of the 11 studies using a subjective outcome measure (patient preference/emotions) were in favour of seclusion, while the 3 studies using an objective outcome measure (duration of coercion/need for transition to other coercive measure) favoured mechanical restraint. There was a high risk of residual confounding by indication and/or bias affecting the reported results.

Conclusion: Based on the available literature, it cannot be determined whether seclusion is superior to mechanical restraint or vice versa. Further studies using stringent methodology are required to answer this question. A cautious conclusion based on this review is that the availability of both methods seems necessary - as both have their pros and cons.

Keywords: aggression; involuntary treatment; psychiatric; psychosis; self-injurious behaviour.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Coercion*
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Patient Isolation*
  • Restraint, Physical*