Mental health is an integral part of an individual’s overall well-being, especially in a clinical setting. For instance, health check-ups, doctors’ appointments, or even visiting loved ones in a hospital can trigger stress and anxiety, increasing the risk of mental health disorders. Several studies have also shown that patients in clinical settings have increased susceptibility to mental health disorders due to increased stress induced in the clinical environment. Additionally, the World Health Organization’s data suggests that one in every five individuals in India suffers from a mental health disorder. As we become more culturally liberal and let go of the social stigmas associated with mental health, there is a growing awareness, acknowledgement and acceptance of behavioural health disorders as normal, treatable conditions.
Today, designing for mental health is no longer confined to facilities catering to patients with mental health disorders alone. Healthcare planners have also started to adopt planning strategies and design elements that are particularly effective in responding to patients with even some degree of behavioural health disorder. Consequently, we have witnessed a rational shift in healthcare design wherein we emphasise how design strategies and elements work and interact with the users rather than only how they appear. Healthcare architects and designers have also begun to acknowledge mental health as a crucial component of one’s overall health. Hence, the planning of hospitals is seamlessly driven by a ‘patient and care-giver’ centric approach that attempts to reduce stress.
The most appropriate way to elevate patient experience lies in neuroscience. It is imperative to understand a patient’s state of mind, which is generally susceptible to high degrees of stress. Patients in a hospital experience stress due to several causes: invasions of privacy, no control over noise, acute or chronic pain, separation from family and things familiar, feelings of helplessness, concern over medical bills, insurance coverage, and loss of control over events and the immediate environment.
Spatial configuration, guided by evidence-based design, can be planned in ways that maximise natural light exposure for all patients and caregivers and position allied functions such as circulation cores in the areas that receive comparatively less daylight. Another strategy that’s proving to be successful in harnessing the potential of such healing spaces, owing to the studies validating this strategy for stress reduction is by constructing positive distractions by amplifying views towards nature and landscaped areas, or something as simple as nature-themed artwork in all patient and staff areas. This principle enables convenience and approachability for patients with a core sense of comfort. Healing spaces create a positive, stress-free and calming environment for patients, relatives and caregivers alike.
Most importantly, flexibility and choice help patients gain a certain degree of control over what is assumed to be taken away from patients in a hospital. Studies show that small design interventions such as public and private waiting areas, flexibility to sit on high or lounge seating, etc., have positively elevated the patient experience. Reduced stress is proven to trigger recovery rates, improve patients’ compliance with drug and medication regimens, and minimise postoperative pain and adverse effects on the immune system.
With several such studies and design principles available to suggest positive impacts on patients as a result of enhanced patient experience, a patient-centric approach is what drives healthcare design at CDA. Healthcare facilities are no more limited to just buildings to accommodate equipment to treat ailments and diseases. The impetus in healthcare today is to restructure itself and create healing environments for patients and offer holistic wellbeing. A few fundamental changes in our approach to mental health, design and architecture can drive the healthcare industry towards a safer environment – for a patient’s mental and physical health.
Ravideep Singh, Associate Director, Creative Designer Architects