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Designing for Mental Health pt. 4 – Healthcare

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Within the healthcare facilities, it is objective to promote healing and recovery.

But for many, hospitals are a place of doom and gloom and can be mentally taxing whether as a doctor, patient or visitor.

The stress of looming expense bills to look forward to after is one of the many reasons why patients may chose to out process before complete recovery. As designers and planners, it is important to take into account the best ways to encourage both speedy and quality recovery.

Visual perception, for one, has an overriding importance in every aspect of our day-to day-lives. Environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich found in his study done in the 80’s that “patients who can view leafy trees from their bedside windows, on average, healed a day faster, needed less pain medication and had fewer post-surgical complications than patients whose views comprised a brick wall.”

One way hospitals can incorporate visual aesthetics to minimize stress and healing is to offer gardens, patios or green areas. Floor-to-ceiling windows in each patient room, and skylights in laboratory and operating rooms are also effective in hospital environments.

Patient rooms painted in soft earth and ocean tones, instead of  stale white or intense primary colors, have been found to lower anxiety levels while improving mood and promoting relaxation. Studies also show that art depicting landscapes or ocean scenes is calming as opposed to abstract art, which can be stressful and disturbing for patients.

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Sight is key to the placebo phenomenon which can influence health outcomes. The comfort in seeing soothing elements can lead to mental wellness which can result in physical wellness.

Controlled acoustics are also of important when it comes to healing environments. Patients experience better rest and less stress with noise minimized, especially at night, which can speed healing. Studies have shown that quiet neonatal wards may advance development in premature infants. One example to control noise is to install bumpers on doors  in equipment rooms and other spaces with high traffic to cut down on loud slamming. Another is to plan for single-patient rooms that may include different zones like the nursing area with a sink, supply storage and charting space; the patient’s bed area; and the family area, with a sleeper sofa.

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Simple design cues like these could ultimately be the difference between a couple hundred or hundreds of thousand of dollars being unnecessarily spent due to a facility’s shortcomings.

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