If you have every walked through a dark alley at night with the unknown lurking behind each corner, you have experienced the feelings that the front lines workers in behavioral health settings are exposed to every day.
It is a special person that can handle the stressful environment, deal with the abuse and come back the next day because that is their job. The truth is, most will never understand the challenges faced in these situations, including myself. I have however spent time with some of these nurses and think they deserve credit for the abuse they endure silently while society passes on the troubled, disoriented, sometimes violent characters to them to care for.
Not all cases are violent but there is always the black cloud of possibility that it could turn out that way. One blogger spoke about cleaning up feces off the wall, getting spit on in the face, aggressive family members and much more. As another blogger put it: “If you worked thinking you are going to be attacked 24/7, you would be a nervous wreck, wouldn't be able to do your job properly and probably make errors due to the level of stress. You have no idea.” Only the most aggravated assaults are reported leaving the majority undocumented.
Making these spaces safe is a real skill. The design team must include the front lines workers that have seen a screw, staple or other sharp objects turn into weapons. They have seen a stacking chair fly across a room, narrowly missing them. They have seen patients attempting to take their own life and they understand what it takes to create the safest environment for these patients. If there is any one piece of advice I can offer to someone designing a new space where mental health is present, it would be to bring in a front-line nurse.
The innovation of design must outwit the innovation of patients in these facilities. Preventing a serious injury or worse starts with a great design, appropriate furniture and an understanding of all the dangers that may present themselves. This is just the start.