Currently, questions about design at psychiatric care facilities are viewed through the prism of security. How many guard and isolation rooms are needed? Where should we put locked doors and alarms? But architecture can — and should — play a much larger role in patient safety and care.
One prominent goal of facility design, for example, should be to reduce stress, which often leads to aggression.
For patients, the stress of mental illness itself can be intensified by the trauma of being confined for weeks in a locked ward. A care facility that’s also noisy, lacks privacy and hinders communication between staff and patients is sure to increase that trauma. Likewise, architectural designs that minimize noise and crowding, enhance patients’ coping and sense of control, and offer calming distractions can reduce trauma.
Thanks to decades of study on the design of apartments, prisons, cardiac intensive care units and offices, environmental psychologists now have a clear understanding of the architectural features that can achieve the latter — and few of these elements, if incorporated into a hospital design from the outset, significantly raise the cost of construction.