Over the past two years, The Center for Health Design has become more focused on understanding best practices for behavioral health design and building a body of strategic tools and resources for the industry. As part of this initiative, we held our second Pebble-in-Practice workshop on behavioral health facility design last year in Baltimore.

According to a presentation by Array Architects, one in five adults has experienced a mental health issue and one in 20 Americans lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. Half of all mental health disorders show up before a person turns 14; three-quarters before the age of 24. However, less than 20 percent of children and adolescents with mental health problems receive the treatment they need. Add to these figures a growing suicide rate and an opioid addiction epidemic that continues to be on the rise, and it’s clear why an understanding of how to design safe spaces for those struggling with mental health issues is important today.

It used to be that behavioral health facilities were a subset design specialty, but today, where there are patients, there’s the potential for patients struggling with mental health challenges. So understanding appropriate design considerations that can be applied anywhere has become an imperative.

There are many specialty solutions to consider when designing for this population, such as creating anti-ligature environments in noninstitutional ways. However, many of the design recommendations are what I would consider best practices for any healthcare space: focusing on patient experience; providing dignity and privacy in a compassionate, safe setting; delivering access to nature, the outdoors, and natural light; engaging all the senses; and reducing stressful noises.

To capture and make the information from our workshop readily available to a broader number of people, we invited a few of the speakers to recreate their presentations for a webinar series, all of which are now available on-demand on The Center’s website, healthdesign.org. Details on two upcoming Behavioral Health Strategic Design Workshops to be held this year will also be posted soon.

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