21st Century Mental Healthcare Architecture

With ten years down in a new century some new mental healthcare trends are beginning to emerge. The first of these is a return to experimentation. Building layouts have suddenly become as important as they were in the 19th century. Today nobody believes that the architecture alone will influence and ultimately decide the healing process, however, it is extremely influential. The building layout, room size, and amount of public versus patient private space can be a great determining factor in how a patient feels inside a facility and their chances to be cured. Patient and staff movement is very important as well as separation barriers of patients to visitors. There are new ideas regarding design being tested with virtually every new facility. The problem lays in the fact that little to no confirmed data exists to support various design trends and ideas. Another problem is the unwillingness of both hospitals and architects to release data. This leads to confusion over what is working and what is not. Perhaps in the future this hurdle can be resolved.

A trend in design that is beginning to gain traction is the concept of home, neighborhood, downtown. This design allows the patient to control the amount of interaction based on their comfort level. The home would be the private room of the patient, the neighborhood is the wing public/group area and the downtown a fully public space such as a gym or cafeteria. Another part of this design concept is smaller wings. A wing size of eight to twelve beds is typical. These smaller wings allow patients to get more comfortable with the people around them and not have to see too many new faces. Yet another part of this idea is the clustering, the private rooms cluster around the one public area and are in turn connected by hallways to larger public areas allowing the patient a more private approach if they desire it.

The population of mental healthcare facilities is unlikely to change much in the coming years. The de-population of the 1960's and 1970's due to new drugs is unlikely to repeat itself. No new radical medicines have been developed to cure the worst of symptoms. And this is precisely the population that remains in long term facilities. A population that is on the rise is the criminally insane. Their gradual release into the system of non-violent patients is a disturbing and unhealthy trend. It endangers staff and patients alike and leads worse chances of regular patients being cured.

Another trend that is seen is continuous specialization of mental healthcare facilities. From alcoholism treatment to maximum security there seems to be a facility for almost any disorder or condition. Everyone is separated by severity of case and symptom. This leads to better care and far better chances of being cured. More staff, better facilities and wide ranging activities are all normal things in the 21st century. The range of daily activities continues to grow in an effort to both cure the patient and provide them with some sort of guidance for their gradual re-introduction into the outside world. Patients are now encouraged to learn skills that they will need in everyday life outside the facility not just be cured. This is a major shift in thinking concerning patients.

As the century progresses we will see new design trends emerge, new medicines be invented, and new ways of patient rehabilitation be introduced. One thing is clear, the chain clanking ghost of the past patient of the lunatic asylum has been banished forever.

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