Better designs on mental health

Architecture does have an impact on the effectiveness of purpose-built health facilities, with researchers finding that patients and staff have identified practical shortcomings in a mother-baby psychiatric unit.

Professor Damien Riggs, ARC Future Fellow from the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Flinders University, is part of a research team that has conducted interviews in a South Australian facility and observed how it functions.

Their findings, which identify problems in how staff, patients and their families use and respond to the facility, will be the basis of a book, due to be completed this year and released in 2020.

“Our findings highlight disparity that exists between the architecture and function of a purpose-built health facility,” says Professor Riggs.

While the researchers acknowledge that consultations do occur before construction, they believe architects may not be asking the right questions of specific health facility end users.

“It is important to ask both staff and patients about how the facilities will be used.”

The researchers’ findings – built around post-occupancy evaluations – identified problems about privacy and movement throughout the purpose-built unit.

Staff expressed concern about the layout, adequate sight lines and surveillance within the psychiatric unit.

“Overall, the facility is aesthetically very pleasing, and one interviewee described it as looking more like a hotel than a hospital – but the problems relate to specifics about how the space functions,” says Professor Riggs.

This includes appropriate gender considerations of specific facilities.

“We spoke with architects who are predominantly men, designing facilities that are primarily used by women,” says Professor Riggs.

“It’s clearly a sticking point, because the resulting facilities are designed as gender neutral spaces, but in the case of a mother-baby psychiatric unit, that doesn’t produce ideal outcomes for the people who stay and work in that unit.”

The reason to publish a book about the findings rather than a report or article is that the research team has previously examined the function and efficiency of a purpose-built mental health facility, and found that patients and staff there identified many of the same shortcomings identified in the purpose-built mother baby psychiatric unit.

Professor Riggs says the book can serve as a guide for significant improvement in the functionality of purpose-built health facilities – both in the improved design of future specialised medical facilities, and with retrofitting existing structures so that they best suit the needs of staff and patients.

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College of Education, Psychology and Social Work