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Mental Health & Our Environment: How the Architecture Around Us Affects Our Mental Health

Hunter McKenzie
July 15, 2020

Managing mental health problems should incorporate factors beyond medicinal approaches. Our environment plays a major role in either assisting or hindering positive mental health. As such, architects can use design and construction to build environments that convey a feeling of comfort and security. The importance of architectural design on mental health can be seen in the designs of modern mental health facilities, particularly within the psychiatric hospital system in North America. 

The psychiatric hospital effectively contributed to the development of a new field of environmental psychology which focuses on the function and design of spaces to prevent mental illness and promote mental health within man-made environments. Mental health  professionals began partnering with architects to address the unique challenges and needs of psychiatric hospitals that were being negatively impacted by poor patient outcomes. As a result of this partnership, psychiatric hospital architectural design began to look a bit less like a hospital and a bit more like a home. This home-like environment not only promotes a patient-positive psyche and development, but also humanizes the hospital environment. While maintaining safety is a top priority, the hospital design incorporates key elements of a recovery focus. This includes day rooms that look and feel like living rooms, hospital bedrooms that are styled after dormitories, and courtyards that provide an easily accessible outdoor space.

The rapidly developing world of modern medicine has concurrently made great strides. Coupling advanced therapies with required medications, more patients than ever are able to return to their home and community to live fulfilled lives. Both patients and health professionals benefit from the new and more informed design approach for our current day psychiatric hospitals. 

Ramsden E. Designing for Mental Health: Psychiatry, Psychology and the Architectural Study Project. 2018 Oct 17. In: Kritsotaki D, Long V, Smith M, editors. Preventing Mental Illness: Past, Present and Future [Internet]. Cham (CH): Palgrave Macmillan; 2019. Chapter 10. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538043/ doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-98699-9_10