Design for Psychiatry

Social/cultural aspects present a design opportunity for products and services to help raise awareness and empathy towards mental health sufferers, as well as helping patients to build the confidence and skills required to become independent members of society.

Design for Psychiatry. Image retrieved from ID Studio Lab.

Health psychology studies the psychological and behavioural processes in health and mental illness in the healthcare industry. Health psychology has the biggest impact across the human lifespan in the healthcare industry. A health psychologist sees an illness as not only a result of biological processes but a multitude of external factors, namely psychological (thoughts and beliefs), behavioural (habits) and social processes (socioeconomic status and ethnicity). This is called a biopsychosocial approach; the whole person is treated and not just the physical symptoms (Ogden, 2012). Jeroen Deenik (J. Deenik, personal communication, 23 October 2017), found that this approach is also needed in psychiatric long-term care hospitals. He proved that change of lifestyle, especially behaviour, was beneficial in the treatment of these patients.

First, what is psychiatry? Psychiatry studies and treats mental disorders, which often has roots in emotional imbalances and abnormal behaviours (Merriam-Webster, 2017). Biology plays a large role not only as a trigger but also in the complications associated with living with a mental disorder. In the most extreme cases of psychotic disorders, movement disorders are the largest challenge facing this population. Because of the medication patients are dying 20-30 years earlier due to cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, all attributed to avoidable risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol levels and inactivity.

The social/cultural aspects of mental health care also influence many aspects of mental illness including how patients express their symptoms, their coping methods, family and community supports, what types of help they seek and willingness to seek treatment altogether (The Influence of Culture and Society on Mental Health, 2001). Likewise, the cultures of the clinician and the service system influence diagnosis, treatment, and service delivery. For example, pill-taking for mental health issues is normalized in some cultures, while in others it is seen as a sign of weakness. These cultural/societal differences need to be considered when designing for the mental health care industry.

Deenik (2017), explains that the culture within Dutch long-term care facilities used to be about making it as comfortable as possible for these patients. Before no regimes where in place to support healthy living within the facilities. Furthermore, the social stigma associated with mental health is still a major problem. Mental health patients consistently identify stigma, discrimination and social exclusion as major barriers to their health, well-being and quality of life (The National Mental Health Stigma Reduction Partnership, July 2013). Deenik (2017), has very effectively implemented behavioural and cultural/social changes within a psychiatric hospital. Overall patients improved on their physical activity, metabolic health, quality of life and psychosocial functioning. Besides, it reduced the overall use of medication.

Current interventions did not involve design, therefore there lies a great opportunity for innovation and improvement in designing for psychiatry. Designing interventions to address the health risks is complex as there are significant interrelations between the mental illness, the medication, interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. Opportunities exist in motivational programs for staff and patients, innovative technology to enhance the environment or patient care, as well as designing systems for continuous care (Deenik, 2017). Social/cultural aspects present a design opportunity for products and services to help raise awareness and empathy towards mental health sufferers, as well as helping patients to build the confidence and skills required to become independent members of society. Examples can be taken from patient empowerment design projects on, for instance, behaviour tracking and goal setting apps, interventions in communication between healthcare professionals and professions etc. Most likely, however, a more tailored design is needed for the psychiatric hospital context.

References and Interesting Links:

  • J. Deenik (23 October 2017). The elephant in the room improving lifestyle in psychiatry. Personal communication.
  • Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity: A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. (2001). The Influence of Culture and Society on Mental Health. Retrieved from:
  • Merriam-Webster. (2017). Definition of Psychiatry. Retrieved from:
  • The National Mental Health Stigma Reduction Partnership. (2013). The effect of stigma. Retrieved from:
  • Ogden, J. (2012). Health Psychology: A Textbook (5th ed.). Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press. Chapter 1 introduction to health psychology. Retrieved from:,+J.+(2012).+Health+Psychology:+A+Textbook+(5th+ed.).+Maidenhead,+UK:+Open+University+Press.&ots=JzFrXiUkMw&sig=dAvJqW4dFIeG9nJEPqa_XzwYlcc#v=onepage&q&f=false

Topic Contributors: Emily Brebner, Emma Erkelens, Oliver Ravilious

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