Detail-oriented facility planning and design creates the foundation for effective healthcare treatment. For facilities that aim to treat conditions related to mental health or substance abuse, there are specific considerations designers must take into account to create the right environment.
Designing a behavioral health facility goes beyond following compliance standards. In order to create a safe and supportive healing environment, your team has to make intentional decisions. Asking the right questions along the way is an important part of ensuring the safety, privacy and comfort of your clients.

building-design.jpgHow can we support the safety of clients and staff?
Creating a safe space for your clients and staff means considering all potential risks and finding solutions. This is especially important in behavioral health facilities, where clients may be struggling with a variety of mental health issues. Certain materials like wood can be used more easily for harm, so it’s important to be intentional while selecting materials and consider everything from the screw heads to ligature restraints. Alternative materials that offer less risks include plastic, metal or fabric that can’t be ripped. Additionally, while water features and fountains are becoming common again in waiting rooms, they can be dangerous. Instead, opt for white noise machines, which can offer the same calming sounds without posing a safety hazard.
What elements can we include to foster positive experiences and improve health outcomes?
Evidence-based design principles, such as incorporating natural light, support client well-being and improve treatment outcomes by providing the right conditions for healing. At Medxcel, we take pride in creating well-designed and supportive care environments that not only prevent harm and injury but also support clients’ psychological needs to aid the healing process. Each facility will need specific elements depending on the type of care it provides, so focus on what is effective for your clients, providers and facility operations. Some elements, however, will remain constant across all behavioral health facilities, such as hardened walls and additional noise control to protect privacy.
How will clients feel in this space?
Leading with empathy when planning out the space can ensure clients feel comfortable and secure. Every decision we make has the potential to significantly reduce or amplify anxiety and sensitivities, so it’s crucial to take the time to envision the space from a client’s perspective. Consider what they will see, hear, feel and smell when entering the facility or while undergoing treatment.
The client experience begins in the waiting room. While typical healthcare facilities tend to face chairs toward one another and rely on TVs to limit boredom, facing strangers can create additional stress, and television images and sounds can create conflict and instability for people seeking behavioral health treatment. Instead, try arranging the room so that clients look outwards toward windows or at thoughtfully selected artwork.
Throughout the facility, create a calm atmosphere by intentionally choosing elements that will ease anxiety. Opt for light earthy and neutral-toned colors and stay away from vibrant colors that tend to create mental chaos. Thinking about the textures and sounds clients will encounter, incorporate softer materials and white noise machines to create a soothing and rhythmic environment while ensuring privacy. Also consider the influence of aromas on clients’ moods. Recently, facilities have begun to control smell by introducing aromatherapy devices into the HVAC systems.
Incorporating the right elements will shape an environment that promotes positive and effective experiences. For support planning and designing your behavioral health facility with client needs in mind, request a consultation.