Towards a design theory for reducing aggression in psychiatric facilities
Paper in proceedings, 2012
The paper proposes a tentative theory for designing psychiatric environments to foster reduced aggression and violence. A basic premise underlying the design theory is that environmental and psycho-social stressors mediate and trigger aggression. The theory posits that aggression will be reduced if the facility has been designed with an evidence-based bundle of stress-reducing environmental characteristics that are identified and discussed. To make possible a tentative empirical evaluation of the theory, findings are described from a study that compared aggressive incidents in three Swedish psychiatric hospitals of different design. A newer hospital was evaluated as superior to both an old hospital it replaced and another comparison hospital (control) with respect to having nearly all the environmental features identified in the stress-reducing bundle of the design theory. Findings from restraint use data were consistent with the design theory prediction that aggression would be lower in the newer hospital having several stress-reducing environmental features than in either the old or control hospitals. The use of chemical and physical restraints decreased substantially in the new hospital compared to the old hospital it replaced. By contrast, restraint use increased in the control hospital that cared for comparable psychiatric patients according to similar treatment protocols during the same period. The design theory and preliminary findings suggest the possibility that providing better psychiatric buildings with design guided by the best available evidence and theory can play an important role in reducing the serious patient and staff safety problem of aggressive behavior.