by Layla McCay, UD/MH Director
Colour therapy is a set of methods for using colours to help cure diseases. With a long history in the annals of complementary and alternative medicine, the 'colour cure' was a popular treatment for mental illness at the turn of the 20th century.
"Patients with acute mania were put in black rooms, patients with melancholia in red rooms; blue and green rooms for the boisterous, and a white room for the person who is practically well."
While there is little scientific evidence that the various colour-based therapies can cure any particular diseases, the psychology of colour has long been recognised as an important psychological factor in architecture and interior design: colours can evoke spontaneous emotional reactions that can affect mood and stress. This may in turn exert influence mental wellbeing, an effect that is particularly relevant to designers of the interior and exterior built environment.
The impact of colour on how we feel has been explored by architects and designers in all sorts of contexts, from increasing office productivity to improving wellbeing. The colour red is generally said to be associated with an increase in appetite, reduced depression and increased angry feelings, purple with boosting creativity and developing problem-solving skills, orange with optimism, blue with a sense of security and productivity, and green with a sense of harmony and effective decision-making. The potential effects extend beyond single colours: a monotonous colourscape may be associated with irritability and negative ruminations, while highly saturated, intense colour patterns may increase stress.
An interesting blog by Parkin Architects discusses the opportunities for colour to exert mental health impact in healthcare facility design, again pointing to certain colours that, in addition to helping eliminate the 'institutional look' of facilities, might exert specific impacts on mental health.
Rigorous scientific research on the specific impact of colours on mental health is in its infancy. TheFarthing boutique has developed a new infographic that reflects current ideas on the psychology behind the use of different colours to impact responses in various designed environments. Their sharing this infographic with us reminds us that harnessing the use of colour in urban design to promote good mental health is an interesting field that may have potential, warranting further scientific exploration.
About the Author
This post was written by Layla McCay, Director of the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, in response to a new infographic developed and shared by Toby Dean and Jessica Morgan of TheFarthing.