Restraints and Seclusion: Schools | NAMI

Restraints And Seclusion: Schools

Where We Stand

NAMI believes that no one should be subject to practices that can cause or worsen mental health symptoms. NAMI supports the elimination of restraints and seclusion in schools.

Why We Care

The use of restraints and seclusion are practices that were once viewed as therapeutic treatment methods for people with mental health and substance use disorders. Restraints are generally defined as the restriction of someone’s ability to move their torso, arms or head freely by using physical maneuvers, mechanical restraints or other equipment. Seclusion is generally defined as confinement in an area without the ability to leave.

In schools, it is estimated that thousands of students are subject to restraints and seclusion every year with devastating results. While some school administrators defend the use of these methods as safety measures for both students and staff, in contrast, it is widely accepted by mental health professionals that their use is a traumatizing practice.  Studies in mental health inpatient settings show that the use of seclusion and restraints can result in psychological harm, physical injuries and even death to both the people subjected to and the staff applying these methods.

In most cases, restraints and seclusion are used in schools, not as a tool of last resort but as punishment — disproportionately used against students with disabilities (including children with social emotional disturbance/mental illness) and children of color. They are also generally ineffective in reducing students negative or problematic behavior. Data from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has worked to collect data on the use of restraints and seclusions in schools, but a 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report suggests that many schools are inaccurately reporting data, making it difficult to understand the full scope of this problem. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has worked to reduce the use of these methods for children in clinical settings, and ED has developed resources to support schools in reducing their use.

Nearly 17% of youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year, and spend much of their productive time in educational settings. Despite these facts, millions of young people attend schools where there are no support staff, such as counselors, nurses, psychologists or social workers. Without these resources, teachers and school administrators have few options to support students with mental health conditions, especially those who might be experiencing a crisis or more severe symptoms of their condition while in school. Schools and policymakers should focus efforts on providing engagement-based interventions, early identification and linkages to care, school-linked mental health services, and integrating access to the community’s crisis continuum of care instead of relying on the harmful practices of restraints and seclusion.

How We Talk About It

  • No one should be subjected to practices that can cause or worsen mental health symptoms.
  •  A child who is experiencing worsening symptoms of a mental health condition, or who is in crisis, should receive a humane and effective mental health response, not punishment that escalates the situation.
  • Restraints and seclusion in schools are punitive practices with no mental health benefit — and they often cause harm to students and the school staff involved.
  •  Despite a common argument that they help keep a safe school environment, restraints and seclusion are often used as punishment, neither helping the individual nor keeping other young people safe.
  • These methods are disproportionately used against students with disabilities, including students with mental health conditions, and students of color.
  •  Despite a great need for school-based resources to address student mental health, millions of students attend schools without support staff, such as counselors, nurses, psychologists or social workers.
  • Instead of relying on harmful and punitive practices, like restraints and seclusion, schools and policymakers should work to enhance mental health resources in schools that help students get and stay well.

What We Have Done:

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).