In Canada, one in five children under 18 has a mental health concern, yet only one in six can gain access to the care they need. In the face of the ongoing pandemic, these numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. In a recent survey, 70 percent of children and youth reported worse mental health during the initial Covid-19 lockdowns. Meanwhile, Toronto’s SickKids Hospital has seen a 120% increase in ER visits for mental health concerns as the pandemic has continued.
Covid19 has had a huge impact on the mental health and well-being of many Canadian children. With the closure of schools, switching to online learning, stress of months of isolation, and missing out on important life events and milestones like graduation, children are feeling the impact more than ever.
A Beacon of Hope
The newly renovated Adolescent Mental Health Inpatient Unit at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital is a healthcare architecture marvel and beacon of hope for patients, families, and staff. The unit cares for children and youth from six to 17 years of age who are experiencing a broad range of complex mental health conditions, eating disorders, and medical conditions.
Well before the pandemic started, as a principal pediatric centre in North America, SickKids recognized that they needed to take the lead in providing better access to mental healthcare to improve mental health outcomes for their patients. Drawing on a 22-year design relationship with revolutionary architecture company, Parkin Architects, the hospital engaged our team to design a healing environment that meets the needs of all patients. We were tasked with addressing some major concerns regarding the existing unit, including inadequate environmental safety, which put excessive pressure on care staff. This consideration was one of the driving factors for the unit’s renovation.
Our goal was to create a space that fosters a sense of well-being and hope.
The project was completed in 4 phases and consisted of 10 specialized bed units, three family rooms, a central waiting area, and staff and patient support spaces.
During concept development, Parkin looked at the physical, emotional, and social needs of various users and strategized how the interior design and planning of the physical environment could positively impact the lives of patients, staff, and families. Our team led an extensive programming and planning exercise and a robust design concept, with the intent to design a space that could positively impact the care, recovery, and rehabilitation of all patients.
As one of the program drivers, the design team removed the security presence at the unit entrance and improved visibility and sightlines from the charting station, providing unobstructed views down the corridors. These elements create an inherently safer environment, taking pressure off nursing staff and reducing the stigma typically associated with mental health. After all, healthcare architecture is more than just about functionality; it is about making beautiful spaces for a variety of human needs.
A User-centric Design
Aside from being sensitive to all patient populations, the space had to be age-appropriate, meeting the needs of older youth. Parkin worked with SickKids as well as users to develop a concept that would deliver privacy in a safe and uplifting environment while providing dignity to everyone utilizing the space.
Drawing on Evidenced-based design principles, the team understood that a connection to nature can dramatically influence a patient’s recovery, affecting both their physical and mental well-being. Crucially, these benefits can include quicker recovery times and reduce the need for medication.
Since SickKids is located in an urban setting and the Adolescent Mental Health Inpatient Unit lacks direct access to the outdoors, the design team drew inspiration from nature by including large graphic images reminiscent of those found in a natural environment on the walls. These images are found at key locations throughout the unit, such as the central waiting area and the signage panels in the patient rooms.
The design strategy for the material and colour palette was to provide a warm neutral backdrop while adding splashes of bright and vibrant colours that was appropriate for all ages. Accent colours reflect those found in nature, creating an uplifting and welcoming space for all users.
Patient room panels include vibrant colours that create cohesiveness with the overall design while offering a sense of place and ownership to patients.
Parkin worked with the hospital to propose appropriate furniture that was aesthetically pleasing while meeting the strict and challenging requirements for behavioural health design.
To move away from institutional spaces that are cold, clinical, and uninviting, each patient room features custom millwork wardrobes and a desk with a large writable wall surface that patients can use for drawing or customizing.
The patient rooms provide a comforting and safe space where patients can feel a sense of ownership. Patients have the ability to personalize their spaces, giving them an element of control, which is important to healing and recovery.
The newly renovated Adolescent Mental Health Inpatient Unit at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital is a shining example of how interior design can improve a patient’s journey by breaking down stigmas and providing a safe healing environment for young individuals, especially during challenging and difficult times.
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