How do you define emotional distress? Do you define emotional distress as something severely unpleasant? Everyone has their own meaning of the words emotional distress and how it affects them, but the Oxford dictionary defines it as “suffering,” or “extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain.”
Emotional distress can be caused by a multitude of environmental or psychological factors. One may find themselves in a distressed state after losing a loved one or starting a new school. On the other hand, one may have a mental illness that causes chronic emotional distress symptoms. Either way, I think we can all agree that distress is not pleasant and can come on quickly.
Emotional distress affects the body similarly to anxiety; we have a blog post up now that’s similar to this one in that it takes a look at a weighted blanket for adults and the benefits on dental anxiety. You can follow this link to refresh yourself. The weighted blanket research we will be diving into today takes a different approach.
Rather than using physiological measurements to gather data, this study relies on self-report and staff reports. This information is extremely useful because regardless of what vital sign studies say, if someone doesn’t like the weighted blanket for adults and doesn’t feel better after using it, then they’re not going to want to try it. Alright, now that I’ve prepped you and piqued your interest, let’s dive into the science.
Emotional Distress Study With The Use Of A Weighted Blanket for Adults
The study we are diving into today took place at an acute inpatient psychiatric unit. You may be wondering, what the heck is that? An inpatient facility is one where someone remains on site until they are discharged, that way they have 24/7 support to aid in their mental health treatment.
Sometimes people need to go into these facilities if they are having psychosis, suicidal ideation, or a manic episode. The person will not remain there long-term, most of the time they are there for a week max until the severity of their symptoms have resided. At that point, they go into what is called outpatient treatment where they attend regular appointments with their treatment team but can also live at home.
Alright, back to the study!
A sensory room, or room for the patients to calm down in, was created within the psychiatric unit and was filled with the following items:
- A weighted blanket for adults
- A rocking chair
- A fit ball
For those of you who have just begun your weighted blanket for adults research, a weighted blanket’s purpose is to apply deep pressure touch on an individual which can reduce anxiety and thus help an emotionally distressed person calm down. A weighted blanket for adults offers comfort in emotionally distressing times.
Nurses and support staff were trained to understand the sensory room, and they were asked to offer patients access to the room during the initial signs of distress. A 10-point scale survey was created to measure the level of emotional distress for each patient that utilized the sensory room.
A score of 1 equates to little or no perceptions of distress whereas a score of 10 is maximum perceived distress. Each patient self-reported their level of emotional distress directly before entering the room, and straight after leaving the room. The staff was asked to rate their perceptions of the patient’s behavior as it related to emotional distress.
The researchers collected data not only from the survey that patients took but they also recorded how long patients stayed in the room. Demographics, medication use, and the diagnosis of each patient who used the room were also recorded. It was not recorded if a patient used the room more than once, rather each use was counted as a unique occurrence, so it’s possible some people used the room more than once. The study lasted 12 months.
The room was used 75 times by 63 females and 13 males for the duration of the study. The ages ranged from under 20 years old to 40-59 years old.
Breakdown of Patient Diagnoses
As you can see in the chart, there is an “other” category, so what does this mean? The authors did not clarify who was included in the other category. However, someone may be categorized as other if they do not have a definitive diagnosis, but rather present with a symptom such as suicidal ideation. A patient may also have been categorized as “other” if they were the only one to have a certain diagnosis such as ADHD, or anxiety, and creating separate categories for each individual who had a differing diagnosis was not efficient.
So What Happened?
Self-Reported Change In Emotional Distress Amongst All Participants Before and After Room Use
Type Of Change Reported By Staff Between Before And After Room Use
Looking at the chart above, you can see that most of the behaviors/ perceptions associated with distress decreased, and the positive aspects (i.e., calm and settled) increased. What is more notable is all but four of these characteristics were significantly improved. The four that did not show any significant improvement were physical aggression, paranoia, settled, and calm.
The researchers looked at the data over the span of the study to determine if the room was being used less, and less emotional distress was occurring as a result of the room being implemented in the psychiatric unit, but there was no significant difference to suggest the effects from the room were long term.
As aforementioned, the researchers also looked at whether patients were taking regular medication. Here are the self-reported results between patients that were on medication versus not on medication. As well as the self-reported results based on the diagnosis.
Non-Medicated and Medicated Patient Changes In Emotional Distress Level
Changes in Emotional Distress Level Before and After Room Use Based on Diagnosis
What Does This All Mean?
There’s a lot of awesome data that came with this article which showcases the importance of asking people what they think of something rather than just measuring their vitals. All but one person reported a decrease in symptoms of distress, which is great!
These results are pretty generalizable due to the diverse population included as participants. However, before we get to the “who does this apply to” section, we need to discuss limits.
As stated previously, the room had a variety of items, and patients could choose whatever they wished. Below is the breakdown of how much each item was used.
Amount Of Times Items Were Used In The Sensory Room
As you can see, the weighted blanket for adults was used a majority of the time, but some people used more than one item and the specifics of that data is not disclosed. With this many variables, it’s hard to say for sure that it is the weighted blanket that caused the reduction in distress.
It could have been a combination of tools or a different tool altogether. What this does tell us though, is that the weighted blanket for adults is popular and it wouldn’t be so popular if a) they didn’t like it and b) it didn’t make them feel better. This connection is anecdotal though.
Something important to point out is that the weight of the weighted blanket for adults was not reported in the article, and as we have discussed previously in other articles, the heavy blankets should weigh at least 10-12 percent of your body, and some people may prefer more or less weight tp feel the effects. With only one weighted blanket being placed in the sensory room, the chances that it was the ideal therapeutic weight for everyone is slim.
Although self-reported information gives us much insight into preferences and perceptions, it is extremely biased. Staff members filled out perception surveys on the behaviors of patients, and there’s no way to validate those reports. One staff member may have found that a patient’s pacing decreased while another may find there is not enough change to note a difference.
How Can This Apply to You?
If anything, this study shows that the weighted blanket for adults is preferred as a tactic in reducing emotional distress. The participants in this study were diverse so this preference can be generalized. The age range is wide so anyone under 20 years old to 59 years old can relate to this study.
Although this was conducted in an acute psychiatric unit where most people had a mental health diagnosis, symptoms of depression are common and there were some participants who had “other” diagnoses proving more of a case for the generalizability. Those who may be reading this and have a more serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar may also benefit from weighted blankets.
This study differs from others posted thus far, as it was not conducted in a University setting, rather it was conducted in a hospital setting and approved through the hospital’s ethical committee. Hospital ethical review boards are as credible and unbiased as University review boards.
However, what was not noted in this article is whether any of the researchers had ties with the setting they conducted research. If any of the researchers worked within the study’s setting, the data could be biased, as the staff who filled out the surveys may have wanted the study to succeed. People don’t do this on purpose, so it’s not like they would have meant to skew the data, it’s just that they want their colleagues to get the results they are hoping for! We as humans are good-natured like that.
For those who love the short version, here it is. Patients at an acute psychiatric hospital were given the opportunity to use a sensory room, filled with comforting items when they began showing signs of distress. The weighted blanket was the most used item in the sensory room and there was a significant decrease in distress for all but one patient who used the room.
There were other significant and nonsignificant changes as a result of the room. We cannot assume the weighted blanket itself is the cause for the significant decrease in distress, but we can see that it was the most preferred item of use. Therefore, it must have had some positive impact and it shows us that people like weighted blankets as an item for comfort.
Read the Study!
For more information, check out the study!
Novak, T., Scanlan, J., McCaul, D., MacDonald, N., & Clarke, T. (2012). Pilot study of a sensory room in an acute inpatient psychiatric unit. Australasian Psychiatry, 20(5), 401-406. Doi: 10.1177/10339856212459585