Color Theory in Behavioral Health Settings

It is estimated that around 26%, or 1 in 4 American adults, suffer from a diagnosable mental illness each year. This number has increased by more than double over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. As new mental health treatment centers, both inpatient and outpatient, are being built to accommodate the increased demand for services, we are implementing design considerations, such as color theory, to maximize their healing potential.

The psychology of color has long been implemented within the built environment to elicit specific emotions and curb certain behaviors. One sector of design that receives the greatest benefit from this is the healthcare industry. Have you ever wondered why many hospitals use soft and cool color palettes? Well, it’s not selected at random. The hues, saturation, and brightness of selected colors all contribute to the overall feeling and effect an interior space gives to a person. Hospitals and other healthcare-related facilities strategically implement these colors to keep patients calm, relaxed, and on the path to recovery.

Blues provide a sense of security, serenity, and peace. Blues have been shown to bring down blood pressure, reduce heart rate, and aid with stress management. They can symbolize the sea and sky. Because of this, blue is one of the main colors you will see in healthcare and behavioral health design.

Soft purples, such as lavender, have also been shown to provide a sense of calm and reduce stress. Purples can be uplifting, spiritual, and friendly. Additionally, purple can be associated with ambition, which can fit well with the mindset to track and improve health.

Greens are soothing colors that diffuse anxiety and promote harmony while instilling quiet and rest.  Greens also suggest a connection to nature, which has been shown to have numerous mental health benefits. A few of these include improved attention, positive moods, and increased empathy. Views of nature can be achieved literally, through windows and indoor gardens, or abstractly, through imagery and murals.

Lastly, we cannot recount the benefit of warm neutrals and other natural tones. Warm, neutral colors give our eyes and minds a break from overstimulation. They are homey, comforting, and maintain balance among the many vibrant colors around us. Natural wood tones contribute to these characteristics as well. They create a visual texture and bring elements of the natural world indoors.

IDO specializes in designing healthcare and behavioral health spaces that transform healing. If you are interested in learning more about IDO or curious about how we can assist with your next project, click here to contact us today.

Written by Sara Kotarski