World Mental Health Day – Exploring the Connection Between the Built Environment and Mental Health
In recent years, the conversation around mental health and mental health issues has become more accepted, open and understood, and necessarily so.
According to the World Health Organisation, Mental Health issues have become the largest single cause of disability across the world, leading to about 23% of all disabilities. It has also been reported that one in ten children has a mental health disorder, that mental health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the workplace in the UK, and that more than half of the population in middle and high-income countries will experience symptoms of mental disorders at some stages in their lives.
For many people however, mental health remains a taboo and we still have a long way to go to address the personal, societal and economic cost of inadequate mental health support. Here at the School of Built Environment, Engineering and Computing, we are proposing a project to explore the healing and alleviating effects of buildings on mental health.
Previous studies have identified a strong link between air quality and a wide range of illnesses such as asthma-related issues, cardiovascular diseases and mental health. Research also suggests that the ergonomic, ambient, aesthetic and service aspects of the built environment have significant impacts on the physical, psychological and physiological well-being of a building’s occupants.
These findings do not, however, offer enough insight that could inform designers on how best to design for improved mental health, or how buildings could be adapted to provide healing effects on specific illnesses. In addition, no tool exists that can evaluate the design for mental health impacts or support the designers in making such decisions.
Our proposed study will combine the knowledge of experts from the built environment, mental health research and practice, and software development with the aim to develop Design Quality Indicators (DQI) and a software system for evaluating and enhancing building design proposals to support occupants’ mental health.
The tools and framework would be of immense benefit to specialised mental care facilities, care for older people, and for facilitating independent living for people living with mental health challenges. In addition to evaluating new buildings, the tool would also measure for adapting and fitting out existing buildings to enhance their beneficial effects on mental health, taking into consideration the diversity of the inhabitants; evidence suggests that mental health challenges could be moderated by ethnicity and social classes, amongst other things.
World Mental Health Day is an important opportunity to explore and share the challenges we face around mental health and the fantastic work taking place across all areas and sectors to address them. We hope that our research will continue contribute to this important dialog and look forward to sharing our findings as we progress.
Dr Saheed Ajayi is a Reader in Construction Informatics and Project Management with Research Interests in BIM, Sustainable Construction, Competency-based Modelling and Construction Informatics (use of Digital Technologies in Construction).