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Design thinking and industry knowledge can find solutions together

August 15, 2014
by Kevin Turner
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Can hope prevail?

One of my colleagues recently challenged me:  “how can we, as designers, help to reduce the stigma of mental illness and encourage more people to seek help and begin recovery?”  It is a bold question. 

She is developing a plan, and I will support this effort with every resource I have.  The problem is so big.  If you work within the system, as a practitioner, advocate or even a designer, it is easy to look at the microissues that dominate our lives.  How can we provide adequate care on limited revenue?  How do I get help for this specific person who is lost in the system?  Do treatment malls improve care for short term stay patients?

The big issue is so big, we try to reduce it to understandable sound bites: 

  • The problem is lack of funding.
  • We need more beds.
  • The public doesn’t understand the illness.

Sometimes a singular event challenges what we think we know.  I recently heard the news that Robin Williams had fallen victim to suicide.  He had recently been in treatment, was under a doctor’s care and had no limitations on access.  If he can’t defeat this insidious killer, how can the rest of us hope to survive?  How much do we really know about preventing suicide?

This blog isn’t about Robin Williams, although I did feel a profound sadness when I learned of the circumstances of his death.  This is about all of us.  As a designer of treatment spaces, I feel deeply connected to the behavioral healthcare community, even while I feel like an outsider. 

My world is sticks and bricks, design and construction.  I have to understand the industry to design for it, but I don’t work directly with the patients.  Do I have the right to say “we” when talking about the behavioral healthcare community?  When a significant tragedy unfolds we all feel a combination of lost and connected.  “How did this happen?”  “How could it have been prevented?”

In the end, designers excel at creating outside the box solutions.  Maybe “design thinking” combined with industry knowledge can find a bridge between the problems and the solutions.  Maybe we can help with more than just buildings.  Maybe we can earn the right to say “we.” Maybe we can save a life.

 Katie, if you are reading this, good luck with your audacious plan.  Show the world what we can do.


Kevin Turner

Principal, Perkins+Will

Kevin Turner

Kevin is a recognized leader in the design and operations of behavioral healthcare facilities. ...

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