Building calming spaces
Interesting article by Roger Ullrich in the NY Times:
IT should come as no surprise that violence in mental health facilities causes psychological and often physical harm to health care workers and patients. What’s shocking is how prevalent it is.
Globally, a third of all patients admitted for psychiatric care are involved in violent incidents, according to a 2011 analysis by researchers at King’s College in London. In Sweden, where I teach, it’s estimated that more than half of psychiatric care staff members are exposed to physical violence each year, an experience mirrored in many other countries.
Efforts to reduce violence in psychiatric hospitals have focused on identifying potentially aggressive patients through clinical histories and improving staff training and care procedures. But these approaches, while worthy, are clearly not enough. While definitive numbers are hard to come by, the incidence of violence in care facilities appears to be going up.
Research suggests, however, that there’s an effective solution that has largely been overlooked: designing hospital spaces that can reduce human aggression — to calm emotionally troubled patients through architecture.
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. . .