According to studies and research by camh, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem in any given year, and by the age of 40, one in two will have, or will have had, a mental illness. These numbers are staggering. Mental illness is described as “a disturbance in thoughts and emotions that decreases a person’s capacity to cope with the challenges of everyday life.” This includes a wide range of disorders, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and addiction. Mental illness symptoms can vary from mild to severe and, with appropriate treatment, most people will recover. While great strides have been made in increasing awareness and education, there is still much work to be done in addressing stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions that can undermine a sense of self, well-being and recovery.
We interviewed Dr. Deborah J. Corring on the impact of mental health facility design on the care and treatment of those with mental illness. Dr. Corring is a retired clinician, administrator, educator and researcher in the mental health care service delivery field with 43 years of experience; she continues her work as the sole proprietor of a consulting entity called Client Perspectives. She is an advocate of recovery-oriented service delivery wrapped around a range of services from acute pharmacological treatment to psychosocial rehabilitation services focused on returning patients to everyday life activities. We put the following four questions to her.
The Impact of Healthcare Design on Mental Health Treatment
1. The design of healthcare facilities has shifted from an institutional look to one that is more home-like. How does design support and facilitate a patient’s care, recovery, and/or rehabilitation?
The design of a mental health facility has the ability to support a recovery model approach to care, as well as bring hope and dignity to the patients. A good example is the Parkwood Institute Mental Health Care Building. The design of this facility is configured in sections – The House, The Downtown and The Neighbourhood – which provide and support education, skill building, social interaction, and privacy.
2. What has been the biggest impact design has had on helping patients, staff and family?
Newer mental health facilities have more natural light with views and access to natural settings. This has a calming and therapeutic effect for the patients, their friends, family and caregivers. The Parkwood Institute has three lovely courtyards and secure therapeutic gardens. These introduce an abundance of natural light into the building and allow patients to safely get outside and be around natural settings. Even on a cloudy day, it feels light and airy.
3. Beyond supporting the recovery, does the improved design help to remove stigma?
Current and modern designs communicate healing, comfort, and a sense of optimism. There is a greater focus on supporting a holistic approach, which includes the mental, emotional, physical and social aspects of healing. The result is a more humane, personal and comfortable environment. A more comfortable, welcoming environment also enables family members and other community members to visit and relax.
4. What do you want people to know about mental health awareness?
A commonly held misconception is that people with mental illness are potentially violent and dangerous. This stereotype, often sensationalized in media and movies, causes public fear and avoidance. The truth is, people with mental illness are 2.5 times more likely to be the victim of violence.
Mental illness is no different than any other illness. We provide care and treatment with respect to recovery, rehabilitation, and ongoing management of the illness, with the goal of getting patients back into their communities. It may also be surprising for some that most mental illnesses are treated while people remain in the community, and inpatient stays are shorter and less frequent then they were in the past.