Redesigning the Emergency Department


Emergency departments (ED) are often experienced as cold, alien, and frightening places by people presenting with mental health related concerns.

Different approaches to the design and layout of the ED may improve mental health outcomes and improve healthcare experiences. The people we talked to who have experienced attending the ED for mental health related concerns described how the environment can exacerbate distressing experiences, feelings and thoughts. The lack of privacy, and noise within the ED can contribute to people feeling uncomfortable or afraid. A dedicated mental health care space that is calm, quiet, and away from the ED such as peer led spaces may help people presenting with a mental health related concern to feel safe and comfortable.

When designing an ED, it is important to keep the sensory environment in mind and work with people who present with mental health related concerns. Providing opportunities for people to be distracted from the distress and trauma they are experiencing may help. Sensory activities that attend to movement, are visual or touch-based can help a person to manage their distress. Warm colours, comfortable furniture, and calming sounds may help to ease the distress a person might be experiencing. Finding ways to make the ED environment more inviting and less stimulating can help to improve experiences of mental health care.

Key points

  • The emergency department environment can be noisy and lack privacy. This may contribute to people feeling uncomfortable, unsafe or afraid.
  • Providing alternative environments that offer different sensory experiences or making available sensory tools may help support people to manage their distress and feel safe.
  • Considering other models including peer-led spaces may help to improve the emergency department environment and people’s experiences of mental health care.
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Alternatives to emergency department mental health care