At a time when humans spend the majority of their lives indoors, developers need to realise the responsibility they have to create spaces that support mental wellbeing.
On this year’s World Mental Health Day, I would like to welcome the development world to think differently about mental health and wise-up to its widespread and devastating effects in our society.
Not one of us will be able to confidently say that we don’t know anyone who hasn’t struggled with mental health. Some of us – myself included – have had very personal experiences with mental health. Alarmingly, we are part of a growing crowd in the UK, where one in four people will experience a mental health problem each year.
As mental health issues have proliferated in society, so too have trends in urbanisation and the amount of time humans spend indoors. It’s estimated that we now spend between 80 and 90 percent of our time indoors - in homes, offices and everywhere in between.
The sheer amount of time we spend inside buildings mean that they undeniably have an effect on our physical and mental wellbeing. In many ways, buildings are the very theatres in which our lives play out; they shape our daily interactions and influence our moods. With this being so, developers need to better understand the responsibility they have to deliver schemes that have a positive effect on the end-users’ mental wellbeing.
What developers can do to create happy spaces can range from the grand, to the minute. Simple considerations such as maximising natural light, creating roof gardens and incorporating nature within the building can have a huge impact on residents and occupants mental wellbeing.
Within build to rent schemes, for instance, developers can prioritise integrated storage units to reduce the concentration of the stress hormone, cortisol, and provide spaces which residents can personalise, to give them a sense of control over the environment. Both have been scientifically proven to boost productivity and improve mental health.
Mindful design makes business sense
Alongside the social imperative for developers to wise-up on mental health, there is the economic. As the professionalised rental market matures, those developers that prioritise the mental and physical wellbeing of their residents will be rewarded with higher retention rates, as well as creating happy and healthy vertical communities in which people want to stay put and, most importantly, join.
For the office developer, spaces that are proven to improve productivity and mental health have an incredible advantage in already saturated market. Mental health issues in the workplace cost UK businesses an estimated £34.9bn last year and accounted for a staggering 70 million sick days. Of course, more conscious and mindful design will not eradicate this issue entirely, but it will be an integral part of addressing this huge issue.
With all we know about the social and economic costs of mental wellbeing, it’s time that developers better served the public’s needs and stepped up to the ultimate calling: to create spaces and places that make people happy.
Ben Channon is an associate and wellbeing ambassador at Assael Architecture. His book ‘Happy by Design: A Guide to Architecture and Mental Wellbeing’ is available at the RIBA bookshop