The Effect of Art on Behavioral Health

The Effect of Art on Behavioral Health

By Julia Donahue, IIDA, NCIDQ, WELL AP

In recent years, artwork has become an integral part of the design process, rather than a decorative afterthought. The goal of art in architecture is to improve the environment, provide wayfinding, and enhance the physical and mental well-being of employees and guests. The impact of art in healthcare design is no different, especially for behavioral health facilities. Art that is integrated into the design of a space from its conception plays a vital role in creating a positive patient experience and recovery. Not only does it provide an aesthetic escape and help with wayfinding within a space, but it can also help create a sense of community and calm, especially in a clinical setting.

Examples of beneficial uses of art in behavioral healthcare design include but are not limited to; paintings, murals, landscape photography, biophilia, and interactive sensory opportunities where light, touch, and sound are all part of the experience. Sensory experiences have been shown to help patients self-soothe when experiencing emotional distress. Biophilic installations, such as live plants and green walls, have been shown to help reduce stress in both healthcare and workplace settings, which is beneficial for patients and providers alike. Abstract and landscape paintings, as well as photography, can enhance patient experience, lessen recovery time, and improve staff morale.

While biophilia and plants may not be your initial thought when you think of art, they are an essential part of our natural world and are becoming increasingly common within indoor environments. A study has shown that spending 120-minutes per week in nature is tied to good health and well-being. With the pandemic, we have seen activities in nature and incorporating natural elements into the workplace becoming more common. Further studies have shown that enriching a space with plants can increase productivity by as much as 15%. Not only do plants help with productivity, but they can also help with stress relief as well. When surrounded by greenery, people have a more relaxed and tranquil attitude.

Incorporating art into the design of the expanded behavioral healthcare units at Sanford Medical Center in Sanford, ME was critical to the project. Photos of scenic Maine lighthouses and waterfront views were carefully selected to create full wall murals. The intention behind using these images was to help foster a sense of calm in patients and instill a sense of place and community between patients. Natural imagery and organic textures were also used, when possible, to help create a sense of calm. A relaxing color scheme was curated to avoid causing patients or staff negative emotions, as certain colors can evoke negative feelings. The group therapy room features a textured installation with primary colors, and customizable lighting and sound to generate a full sensory experience.

Incorporating art of all types into the design of clinical care settings, especially behavior healthcare facilities, is integral to creating a calming experience for patients and staff alike. We foresee this trend becoming only more prominent in the future.

This article was featured in High Profile Monthly