According to a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll conducted in 2016, nearly one in five adults in the U.S. has a mental, behavioral, or emotional health disorder. That same year, the foundation did an analysis of data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis Health Care Satellite and found that one in five Americans reported they or a family member did not receive needed mental health services, with cost being the most common barrier. And yet, according to Statistica, $225 billion was spent on mental health services in 2019—a number that has been growing steadily every year.

These numbers help illustrate a disconnect between dollars spent, access to care, and better health outcomes. This issue is something the healthcare, design, and technology communities have been looking to help solve through the creation of new patient programs, physical access points, and digital platforms.

In May, The Center for Health Design planned to hold a one-day workshop on behavioral health design, focusing on strategic design innovations that improve treatment, outcomes, safety, and the bottom line. Because an in-person event wasn’t possible, we transformed the program into an online series held over three days that month. A similarly themed, one-day, in-person program is still scheduled to be held in Baltimore in September.

The online event featured six diverse programs, including an opening session on the current state of behavioral healthcare and design, project case studies, and a presentation on how flexible design can respond to a variety of care needs. Content from this series is now available on The Center’s website.

One of the programs that was particularly relevant was the session “Designing a Place of Sanctuary for Behavioral Health Inpatients and Staff,” presented by Kim Boe, executive vice president at West Springs Hospital, and Robyn Linstrom, senior associate at Davis Partnership Architects. The speakers discussed how the design of West Springs Hospital, a new psychiatric hospital, helps create a place of serenity and a haven for both patients and staff while maximizing safety and well-being.

For example, the single-story building has a raised roof that brings daylight deep into the interior of the building and multiple courtyards to allow for access to nature and fresh air year-round. Lounging niches are designed into the hallways to give patients options of where they can spend their time but are still in sight of the nurses’ stations.

The need for thoughtfully designed behavioral health facilities is only going to increase in the coming years as the number of patients with mental illness continues to grow. In the previously mentioned Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, it was found that the number of treated mental illness cases grew at a faster rate than the average number for all other healthcare treatments. To help arm our community with the resources it needs to answer this call, The Center, through sponsorship, is able to allow free access to our online Behavioral and Mental Health Toolbox. This kit features 50-plus resources that are searchable by subject or resource type and contains issue and project briefs, expert interviews, webinars, podcasts, and executive summaries. Visit to explore these offerings, and please reach out to let us know if there are new resources or topics you’d like us to explore.

Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at