September 21-23, 2021
Austin Convention Center | Austin, TX

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The Leaflet Article


Mental Health Awareness

Jenabeth Ferguson

I am a self-confessed Kate Spade junkie.  My closet is full of Kate Spade bags each one a favorite for a different reason.   To me they represent adulthood, class, a little fun and strong woman. They make me happy when I am carrying them.  Kate was an icon and role model for women because of her design talent and business acumen.

I am also a self-confessed foodie. I read cookbooks like most people read novels. I watch a lot of the Food Network and have an ever-growing bucket list of restaurants and recipes I must try. Food to me is a universal language.  It is a way to learn about people and other cultures sometimes without having to leave home.  Anthony Bourdain was the master of teaching all of us not be afraid of other cultures through food. He opened the world up to a lot of us and brought people closer together by understanding to not fear our differences.

Two weeks ago, both visionaries took their own lives. Today 22 veterans will commit suicide. It seems incomprehensible that two people who seemingly had it all ended their own lives.  It is also incomprehensible that soldiers who survive the perils of war come home and take their own lives.

We talk more about mental health now than we did even just ten years ago. There are a lot of campaigns to break down the stigma associated with behavioral health diseases. And yet we still have so far to go.

Two years ago, we held Monday is Mental Health day at the Symposium in Orlando. We held four sessions to talk about mental health from the patient, caretaker and provider stand point, which all lead up to one discussion on how everything learned during those sessions could impact design. The sessions were extraordinarily well received but not overwhelmingly attended.  I asked at our board meeting how many folks are working on behavioral health projects and everyone raises their hands. Yet the session attendance does not translate. 

I have dug a little deeper and it seems that there is in fact a stigma against behavioral health design within the AEC industry. Most folks describe it as industrial, lacking innovation and creativity. They have to do it but it’s not the projects folks are jumping up and down to join. And then I thought of Frank Pitts.

Many of you know Frank as he’s been a leader within AIA Academy of Architecture for Health and the American College of Healthcare Architects. He is a founding member and Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Architects and shaped the regulatory environment, serving 2007–2014 on the committee that writes the FGI/AIA Guidelines for Design and Construction of Hospital and Health Care Facilities.  Did you also know that he has made a forty-year career out of planning and designing facilities for the mentally ill?

Frank and I have been talking about him giving a keynote address at this year’s Symposium. Two weeks ago, as the world lost Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain and I felt powerless, I became even more committed to the idea that Frank must share his story. That he must come to Austin this fall and inspire all of us to think about mental health facilities the same way he does.  

Frank’s closing keynote is titled Weeds or Flowers? How perspective changes everythingThe inspiration coming from his experience of working in the garden with his wife. Frank exuberantly and nonchalantly pulls up weeds, his wife Deborah gently reminding him that some of what he is pulling up are precious to her; that his weeds are her flowers.  Much of life is this way.  A simple shift in perspective changes everything. A lot of us view behavioral health buildings as nothing but weeds, or worse.

Join Frank this fall in Austin for a conversation about how shifting perspectives can influence design directions, change a life's work, and influence the lives of others. Be part of this conversation for Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, the countless soldiers and many others who are afflicted with mental health issues and need us all to pay better attention and be more informed.

Be well,

Jenabeth Ferguson
Vice President, Symposium Director
Healthcare Facilities Symposium & Expo

P.S. Have a thought about the Symposium? Please feel free to contact me at any time at

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