As part of our Making Space blog series, we are taking a look at the challenges associated with building mental health supported housing. Modern solutions for housing those with mental illnesses focus on allowing sufferers to live within communities, rather than sequestering them in separate locations. Mental health supported housing is designed for people who no longer feel able to look after themselves in their own homes and require dedicated support to manage their illness. The demand for such accommodation is on the rise.
Initially, mental health supported housing was typically focused around building standalone communities, often in a “campus” style format. This meant that people with mental health care needs would be easier to monitor. Although people were able to live more independently, a sizeable number of people baulk at living with other mental illness sufferers. As part of her paper on the subject, Helen Killaspy writes:
“In many countries, a range of provision has therefore evolved, including facilities that are highly staffed, 24 hours a day (such as residential care homes), as well as shared group homes and hostels that are less intensively staffed, apartment blocks where residents have their own private tenancy but there are staff on-site as least part of the day, and ‘floating’ or ‘outreach’ models, where staff who are based off-site visit service users in their own individual or shared homes, providing support of flexible intensity.”
There are several considerations to factor in when designing mental health supported housing. The first is known as affordance. In essence, this is how a person perceives an object and how they decide to use it. For designing this type of accommodation, affordance relates to objects like door knobs, pull cords, and taps. Signs should be incorporated, simple signals that show how an object is to be used. Arrows on push doors can be hugely helpful for someone in recovery. The clearer the signage, the more quickly people can adapt to living in a mental health supported home.
Light and noise are also key factors when designing this type of accommodation. Decreased light has been found to exacerbate mental health problems, particularly depression. Large windows are an excellent idea, particularly if there is a pleasant view. Greenery should be incorporated wherever possible and there are possible avenues used in some modern office environments that may prove fruitful in this regard.
Noise reduction is very important in mental health supported housing. As much as possible, recovering patients need to be insulated from high noise levels. Double or even triple glazing may offer a solution, but other more innovative ideas should be considered.
Since a large number of people with mental health conditions also suffer from some sort of physical disability, the design must also factor in ‘handicapable’ adaptations.
Part of the process for some patients is becoming less dependent as their condition improves. Following hospitalisation, they are moved into highly-supported housing or separate campuses. As time passes and their needs begin to lessen, they are gently transitioned into shared housing or accommodation within the community. A variety of designs for mental health supporting housing are thus required.