The NSW Government is investing $20 million to help hospital managers improve the therapeutic environment inside acute mental health units – isn’t that great news!
Julie and I have had a lot of conversations over the years about designing our ideal mental health inpatient unit and in this blog we discuss some of the main points.
Our ideal mental health unit would be able to cater for the people in the unit on many levels. It would be able to cater for mental health needs and some areas would be calming, whilst other areas would be suitable for socialising, creativity or exercise. It would be able to cater for the different sensory needs and some areas would be really quiet and low scent, while other areas would support loud music and strong sensations. People would be able to freely move to the areas that they needed in order to change how they felt through using their senses. This could include to a reading nook or a soothing garden, or a zone with sensory modulation equipment. The design would use trauma informed principles so it would have a homely feel and there wouldn’t be disinfectant smells and fluorescent lights and same curtains everywhere. It would have interesting, helpful and creative activities on the units……. We had so many ideas that we decided to write chapters in our book* on it!
The book has a section on designing or renovating sensational spaces in hospitals, mental health units and aged care facilities. This includes the concept of sensory zones so that people are able to move to the zone that meets their sensory need at the time. In the book there are 19 zones with equipment suggestions and design needs for each of them. 5 of the 19 zones are listed below:
Exercise zone or gym
non slip mats on the floor with vinyl rectangular cushions sectioning off the area so it is not walked over
ideally near a wall. On the wall could be posters with exercises that could assist with anger (e.g. wall pushups, simple yoga and stretches)
equipment including weights, basketball hoops and an exercise ball to sit on or bounce
Low stimulation zone
ear plugs, noise-cancelling headphones, music and earphones
wrap or blanket
comfortable, rocking or swinging chair
lower light, light with dimmer switch, low lamp
white noise or soundproofing of zone
nil odour (takes away the scent)
no talking in zone.
Sensory modulation item zone
Sensory modulation items set up for individuals to access
weighted cushions, wraps
cardboard boxes to personalise a distress tolerance kit
books for sudoku or crosswords
warheads, sour lollies, mints
dencorub, eucalyptus rub.
*Items are assessed and selected with the intention of clients using them independently, without needing a staff member to access or unlock them.
Calm garden zone
garden with variety of plants including variety of leaf shapes and textures
scent to be carefully considered. Would not recommend strong scents in garden zone. Could have a separate zone with scented plants (scent exploration zone)
good to have soothing quality to plants and zone
water feature e.g. pond or waterfall or water sculpture
no hidden or dark zones to assist with soothing (so can let go of hypervigilance).
area for ball games.
Family interaction zone
indoor or (ideally) outdoor area for parents and children
swings or playground equipment that promotes interaction, connection and co-regulation
sandpit or water play
*“Sensory Modulation Resource Manual (2018)” , J O’ Sullivan and C Fitzgibbon.