I read an op-ed piece in Florida's Sun Sentinel today about what this country needs to do to better support its mentally ill, according to a man who lost his own son to suicide and now works as an advocate for behavioral health issues. It’s a huge hot-button issue right now, along with gun control, as the Sandy Hook shootings weigh heavily on our collective consciousness and we continue to brace ourselves against news of the next tragedy.

The author, Hank Ashby, cites a finding in a 2012 study by the Treatment Advocacy Center: “Nationally, the number of beds available in the U.S. is 28% of the number considered necessary for minimally adequate inpatient psychiatric services.” The study further posits that hospital emergency departments are often the next stop for those who can’t get one of those beds, which can lead to ED overcrowding and the release of acutely mentally ill patients without treatment.

Is any of this likely to change now? Will the demand for inpatient facilities grow as the country takes a harder look at what’s being done to care for its mentally ill citizens?

If it does, architects and designers will need to give a lot of thought to how they approach these buildings, avoiding the temptation to apply a one-size-fits-all blueprint or resort to “known” design rules that may not be based in fact. So suggests James M. Hunt, president of Behavioral Health Facility Consulting (Topeka, Kan.) and co-author of the “Design Guide for the Built Environment of Behavioral Health Facilities” (published by the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems). Hunt recently contributed a detailed, two-part series on the subject to our sister magazine Behavioral Healthcare. The articles can be found here (Part I) and here (Part II) and are well worth a look for anyone who works on these types of projects.

Mental health issues, and the buildings in which mental health treatment takes place, are likely to remain on the public’s radar as the bigger picture of healthcare reform plays out over the next several years. You can expect to see more coverage of behavioral healthcare facilities at Healthcare Design and, as always, we appreciate your insights into the most pressing issues facing their development.