Designing the Best Mental Health Hospitals

A new study suggests the best designed mental health hospitals include features that mitigate patient stressors, such as crowding and noise, which may decrease the chances of violent incidents over the course of a patient’s stay.

| September/October 2013

A common problem in psychiatric hospitals worldwide may have an unlikely solution thanks to the findings of a recent study conducted in Sweden. According to Environmental Building News (March 2013), a team of researchers from Chalmers University of Technology and Gothenburg University determined that hospital design and patient aggression appear to be linked.

Statistics show that psychiatric patients worldwide average 2.24 violent incidents over the course of their hospital stay, but the Swedish study suggests that simple things such as providing access to the outdoors, ample daylight, moveable furniture in public spaces, and private rooms can all help prevent the outbursts that result in a patient being physically restrained or subject to compulsory injections.

The team compared data from three hospitals: one was a newer hospital that had many of the desirable design features cited in the report, the second was the old hospital that the newer building replaced, and the third was a hospital of similar size used for a control. Statistical analysis showed that the annual rate of restraint incidents was 44 percent less in the new building compared to the older building, and compulsory injection incidents were 21 percent lower. For unknown reasons, injections were 29 percent higher in the control hospital. The data was significant enough for the researchers to conclude that thoughtful hospital design that mitigates patient stressors such as crowding and noise can decrease the chances of violent incidents over the course of a patient’s stay.