State Of Mind: The Intersection Of Design And Mental Health

This discussion hosted by The Dots during London Design Festival was the first of its kind, never in the history of the festival had a talk been solely focused on mental health. Given there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, we could not agree more that it was a long overdue and much needed conversation.

The panellists discussed what the design industry should be doing to combat mental health and their own personal experiences with ‘burn out’ a topic that seems even more poignant during this turbulent year. Chairwoman Anne Pingreoun, Curator and founder of Alter-Projects and Alternative-Thinkers remarked she had been pushing for a talk like this for a long time.

Lucie, Editorial Director at Bauer Media found that 65% of people were more likely to call into work with symptoms of diarrhoea than for a mental health reasons. She believes that it should be equally important to look of mental symptoms as physical and even stated like the 111 service, there should be an equivalent dedicated to mental health. There are a multitude of tools at our disposable but accessing them and knowing which to use can often get in the way of receiving help.

In the design industry we are constantly on the go, moving from project to project without taking a breath. Ben Channon, Head of Wellbeing as Assael Architecture, whose role is the only one of its kind in the UK, believes many young people are experiencing burn out. Ben believes that by pausing and re-visiting failures and mistakes is the only way we can learn. By constantly pushing new work, we as designers miss out of taking time to pause and take a breath, not only impacting our mental health but also our standard of work.

Dr Layla McCay, Director of the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health agreed, siting there is significantly less funding for mental health requirements than physical health when designing new cities. During this pandemic, her research has uncovered that easy access to green spaces was paramount in improving mental health, with urban dwellers struggling more. This has also been shown in the shift in the housing market with buyers ditching big cities and opting for more space. Ben agreed, after his company conducted a survey, a staggering amount said that ‘natural daylight’ was their favourite part of the home. Dr McCay suggested more needs to be done to improve what she believes are the 4 staples: green space, active space, pro-social space, and safety.

Another topic touched on was stigma – the need to work the hardest, stay the latest in the office to prove to our employers we are the ones working the hardest. The shift needs to come from the top, senior staff need to ensure there is a balanced environment in the office and say it’s ok to leave at 5:30. Executive Creative Director at Calm, Andrew Schapiro took the job at Calm originally after experiencing a ‘mini breakdown’ in his previous job. He explained how his quality of life and happiness soared after he took more time out to see friends and loved ones, to start up hobbies and exercise. The work life balance has never been more important, and it is something not to be overlooked.

So, with everything happening now around the world, it is evident we need to re-think where we place our values. It is an exciting time for designers and architects who can have a hugely impactful role in changing public and private spaces to accommodate this growing need for greenery and spaces for wellness.