Whether it’s watching the rain bead on their glass, feeling the sun’s warmth, hearing the spring birds chirping or smelling newly mowed grass when I throw them open, windows connect me to nature and inevitably raise my spirits. For patients in behavioral healthcare facilities, windows can serve as their primary connection to the outdoors. As is so often the case, facility design becomes part of therapy.
Security and safety have long been designed into psychiatric facilities. We attend to ligature points and durability, as well as the group dynamics within this environment. But design needs to address more than security and safety. A therapeutic environment can be part of the healing process.
Providers taking on a construction or renovation project ask for facilities filled with daylight, and where possible, access to beautiful views. There is a clear therapeutic advantage to creating a light-filled space where patients feel that they are being treated as valued members of society.
“Design attributes have an impact on patient behavior, healing and overall well-being,” says Ian Stock, president of Sherwood Windows Group. “At a sensory level, large low windows enhance the senses and reduce delirium. Unobstructed vistas provide a connection with nature and greater natural daylight exposure. A sense of control of one's environment is a critical factor contributing to the patient healing. Operable blinds give the patient privacy and lighting control.”
Lighting control is indeed a key issue. Everyone needs the ability to close the blinds on their windows. Unfortunately patients can’t have access to curtains or the strings associated with blinds because of safety. The best practice solution is to put a miniblind in the window frame between the outer panes of glass and an inner security sash, so that they patient can’t access the blind. An anti-ligature operator can be used to open and close the blinds so the patient has control of his or her environment.
Access to fresh air also has therapeutic benefits. Windows with a lockable, rotating tubular vent offer sound, smell and sensory connection to the exterior environment. Fitted with maximum security mesh, such vents can be operable by the patient at seated height.
The design requirements of therapeutic settings are as unique as the needs of the patients themselves. They depend on a wide range of considerations, including safety risk, level of supervision at the facility, cost and maintenance. Nevertheless, a facility’s windows should be more than another level of security. They should incorporate features that are part of the therapy, enhancing the patient's well-being.