Can architecture reduce aggression in volatile patients?

The majority of patients with mental health issues aren't violent. However, there are enough instances of violence in healthcare settings to make the topic worth discussing. Whether due to unintended reactions to medication, or symptoms of their condition, aggressive behavior can be a serious concern. Aggression can quickly lead to physical restraint, sedation or even confinement for the protection of the patient and others in the facility. These situations are uncertain and alarming for everyone involved. As healthcare designers, we're specifically interested in how variables such as colors, natural light, and wayfinding systems can make a facility more conducive to health and healing. But is it also possible for architecture to reduce aggression in behavioral health patients?

Fewer People = Less Stress

One powerful variable within our control is social density. Routinely keeping high numbers of people in a single room will create added stress for anyone, but this effect will only be amplified by certain mental illnesses. Overcrowding can increase anxiety and even induce feelings of claustrophobia. The good news is that these experiences can be reduced. A great way to start is by incorporating more single-patient rooms and increasing quantities of smaller communal areas. Not only will social density be reduced, but patients will also have the option to better regulate their social interactions. This offers patients more control over their experience. Single bedrooms make privacy an option and community spaces with flexible seating allow patients more control over their personal space and interactions with others.

Design a Calming Environment

Unpredictable noises are among the most potent environmental stressors. Loud, uncertain noises will increase levels of stress and have the potential to lead to aggression. To design a calming environment where patients feel comfortable and relaxed, consider incorporating acoustic walls. You may also consider softening the surfaces of your rooms to aid in the reduction of stressful sound transmission throughout your facility. Doing this will certainly reduce stress overall for all patients, and likely lead to decreases in aggressive patients as a result.

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