It’s hard to watch the news these days. Although there’s more good than bad in this world, when bad things do happen, causing substantial loss and leaving sadness in their wake, we might feel overwhelmed and helpless. But as healthcare design professionals who contribute to shaping our communities and buildings, there are ways we can help prevent devastating events from occurring.

One area where we may lend our expertise is the mental health arena. Far too frequently we’ve watched people of all ages go on violent rampages that leave innocent people dead. We look for answers as to why these tragedies happen and ways they might have been prevented. In some cases, the person was acting out of hatred to create terror and fear. But in others, it’s about people hitting a breaking point—and there are opportunities along that person’s path where intervention could have made a difference.

The Center for Health Design believes that creating appropriate environments for those interventions is critical. To that end, we’ve launched a new toolbox with a library of behavioral health design resources. With generous sponsorship from industry partners, this toolbox is open and free for all to access and use.

During our year of work creating this toolbox, we found there’s still little research on the impact of the built environment on mental health despite the great need for investment in it. Behavioral and mental health conditions affect one in five adults in the U.S. each year and are even more common among patients receiving care for medical conditions. Up to 45 percent of patients admitted to the hospital for a medical condition or presenting to the emergency department with a minor injury also have a concurrent behavioral or mental health condition. These comorbidities increase the risk that psychological harm may occur during care.

Providing these patients with a healing, therapeutic environment should be an important goal for this industry, with design interventions aimed at improving the psychological well-being of patients. These efforts may be more cost-effective than they initially appear, too, because they can be leveraged to support improved well-being for all building users, including staff.

More than 20 resources are available in The Center’s open-source toolbox, from a deep-dive issue brief and executive summary prepared by our research team to interviews with topic experts. There are also project briefs that
illustrate what others have done, as well as a tool titled “Design for Behavioral and Mental Health: A Universal Approach & Benefit Analysis,” which helps project teams consider the broader impacts of design and incorporate them into an evidence-based design process. Plus, there are eight webinars relating to this topic that can be used for AIA/EDAC continuing education units.

Behavioral and mental health isn’t always an easy subject to talk about, but it’s important that we have these conversations to identify the best ways to take care of our communities, keep members safe, and help people thrive and be well. The Center is deeply invested in these issues and will continue to build out this toolbox with resources to help you be an effective advocate in your area.

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