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Why architecture needs to tackle mental health issues head on 17.04.19

Written by  Ben Channon

architect at work ICON

We need to take action on mental health in the built environment at all levels, says Ben Channon

 

In the last few years, mental health issues have been propelled into the mainstream as we start  to understand just how pervasive they really are. The mental health charity Mind now estimates that one in six people will experience some form of mental health problem every single week.

Office space mental health illustration ICONllustrations by Sian Rearden of PDP London

Architecture as an industry seems particularly susceptible to such problems, as do architecture students. Part 2 student Melissa Kirkpatrick produced a dissertation on the topic last year titled ‘Mental Wellbeing and the Architecture Student’, supported by both the RIBA and the Architects’ Benevolent Society. In this study, Melissa highlights that not only do 33% of architecture students currently believe that they have a mental health problem (with a quarter having received treatment for this), but also that they are far more likely than other students to have struggled with anxiety, panic or feelings of hopelessness.

While data on professionals is less readily available, it is clear that mental health is a problem within the industry. A combination of long hours, tight deadlines and a tendency towards perfectionism can all contribute to poor mental wellbeing. In a month where unpaid interns have been high on the agenda of the architectural press, some of the underlying issues that contribute to this situation have been brought sharply into focus.

In an effort to address this, just over a year ago I launched the Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum, with help from John Assael, the chairman of architecture firm Assael (where I have worked since 2012). We contacted a number of UK practices renowned for their approach to staff wellbeing, and in early 2018 held our first Forum meeting. The Forum now meets quarterly to share knowledge and learning from our own experience, as well as researching other ways to support architects' mental health in the workplace.

finding balance mental health illustration ICON

Our mission statement is a simple one: to improve mental wellbeing throughout architecture. We believe that as an industry, we can all improve our understanding of mental health, and subsequently provide better environments for the wellbeing of people working in architecture. Architects should be designing buildings that support a good quality of life and high levels of wellbeing, but in order to excel at this, it’s important that we remember to take care of ourselves.

Earlier this month, the Forum launched its website and put out a call for ‘supporting practices’: those companies who would like to show their commitment to caring for their staff’s mental wellbeing. The response has been resounding, and it has been extremely heartening to see the commitment of an industry that clearly understands the pertinence of this subject.

If you would like to support the forum, please get in touch with us via our Twitter account. As well as practices who are keen to show support for the Forum, we would also love to hear your thoughts on mental health issues within the industry, and how we can better support the sector in tackling this crucial issue. You can also find out more by visiting our website or reading our first newsletter, published in October of last year.

Ben Channon is the founder of the Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum, author of ‘Happy by Design: A Guide to Architecture and Mental Wellbeing’ and associate at Assael Architecture

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