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Suicide watch refers to a situation in which an individual is very closely monitored to ensure that she does not take her own life or otherwise harm herself. Depending on the stability of the patient, this type of suicide prevention can either be regular or extremely intense. This practice usually takes place in psychiatric wards, hospitals, or prisons.
To be put under this monitoring process, an individual must be deemed a threat to herself. A person can check herself into a psychiatric ward of her own free will if she is suicidal. If she had already attempted or threatened suicide, however, police officers or hospital officials can force her to check in.
She will then usually be put on suicide watch immediately and monitored closely. This is often known as an involuntary psychiatric hold. In the state of California, for instance, this is referred to as a 5150. This refers to Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, which allows an officer or doctor to detain people who are considered to be a threat to themselves or others.
Patients who are placed on suicide watch are placed in an environment that makes it extremely hard to hurt themselves. This is often a completely bare room with nothing on the walls or ceilings. Many times, the only thing in the room is a bare mattress. These patients are also not allowed to have anything with which they can possibly harm themselves, including razors, shoelaces, belts, electronic appliances, and sometimes bed sheets. In some instances, patients may be nearly naked with nothing to wear but a flimsy paper or cotton gown.
All patients under suicide watch are closely monitored, though some more than others. Many rooms where suicide watch patients are kept are monitored via security camera 24 hours a day. During an interval suicide watch, patients must be checked on by a nurse, doctor, or guard at certain times, usually every 15 or 30 minutes. The patient must be checked during each of these visits to ensure that she is alive and well. In severe cases, a patient is usually placed under continuous watch, where a doctor, nurse, or guard is within arm's reach at all times.
Besides psychiatric wards, suicide watch is quite common in many prisons because there is often a high rate of suicides and attempts among inmates. Prison officials are instructed to keep all dangerous objects away from the inmates to keep them from harming anyone else or themselves. If an inmate commits suicide during her incarceration, many times the guards and other prison officials can be held liable.