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Determining Colour and Design Specifications for Mental Health Facilities

We recently read an article expressing concern over the minimal amount of research and attention dedicated to the role the physical environment plays in behavioural health settings over the last four decades.

As a firm, we are always looking to explore ways design can help to overcome challenges in the healthcare setting; and we have seen emerging evidence supporting the impact of colour in healthcare design – a topic about which we are particularly passionate.

Parkin’s EDAC Group has completed Evidence-Based Design research, which supports specific recommendations for mental health centres and psychiatric hospitals. We follow these guidelines when determining colour specifications for mental facility corridors, patients’ rooms, and examination rooms.

The Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health & The PSR Model

Such fundamental designs were recently implemented in the design of the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health.

As clinical planners for the centre, Parkin provided an environment that facilitates the advancement of forensic psychiatry through the incorporation of principles of the psychiatric models of care, such as the Psychosocial Model of Rehabilitation (PSR) in the physical design. The PSR model of care focuses on healing of the individual and promotes involvement of family and community, with the ultimate goal of patient reintegration with the community.

Use of Colour in Mental Health Facilities

Facilities such as the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health are designed to assist patients in their healing progression. Parkin designers strive to create a more “ideal home” atmosphere, with emphasis on eliminating the “institutional look”. Studies have shown there are a number of techniques that can be used to reach this goal, including:

Sensory Considerations

  • Using colour to adjust corridor proportions.
  • Avoiding complex patterns, colour stimulation and monochromic schemes when selecting furniture, fixtures and equipment.
  • Providing soft, indirect, full-spectrum lighting.


Stress Reduction

  • Using calm colour in seclusion rooms (not white or grey).
  • Providing soothing artwork and pictures of familiar images.
  • Introducing blues in areas where calming is important.


Energy Enhancements

  • Maximizing use of natural light.
  • Providing access to outdoor courtyards and/or rooftop terraces to allow patients to connect with nature and the outdoors.
  • Using warm lighting, and avoiding lighting that is too uniform (meaning lighting that doesn’t produce shadows).


Focus on Comfort

  • Avoiding an all neutral, institutional look by using a soothing warm accent colour on at least one of the walls.
  • Creating isolation rooms that are cozy, inviting, sparsely and safely furnished, which do not look like punitive environments.


The recent study on Design Research and Behavioral Health Facilities also highlights research showing patients “socialize more in a newly remodeled ward with bright colours, compared to a ward with old and worn furniture and dark and dull colour scheme.”

For more research on how design influences behaviours in mental health facilities, you can visit


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