Building for Wellness

By Jen Heil | May 13, 2019

As discussions around mental health become more prevalent and nuanced, so too must the consideration we give to the impact of our surroundings on wellness.

With recent research revealing that the majority of people living in developed countries spend 90% of their time indoors, the planning and design of our built environment has never been more important. Spending so much time inside can disconnect us from nature, limit our exposure to natural daylight – which in turn plays havoc with our natural circadian rhythms – and can even reduce our levels of social interaction. These are all vital elements for maintaining good mental health and our increasingly cloistered lifestyles are contributing to worrying trends in mental ill health. It is now estimated that mental health disorders are responsible for approximately 14% of the entire world’s disease burden – and 23% of the UK’s.

According to the World Health Organization’s definition, mental health is “a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. It is no coincidence that this is also what it takes for communities and economies to thrive. People, after all, are the heart of every society and so it makes perfect sense that for any society to fulfil its potential the individuals within it must be able to do so as well.

The interconnectedness of the natural and built environments, physical and mental health, productivity and wellbeing has been highlighted more and more in recent years[1], and yet there seems to be slow progress in translating those connections into action.

Health, both mental and physical, is directly impacted by environmental factors, such as:

  • clean, fresh air
  • exposure to natural light
  • contact with green space
  • thermal comfort

Health has a direct impact on productivity and economic success. Productive and economically successful people, companies and societies are better placed to invest in their own and the wider environment. And so, there is a clear cycle of wellbeing which underpins the ability to thrive at a personal, societal and global level.

There is a huge opportunity for those in the building and construction industry to make positive, lasting contributions to public, economic and environmental health by embracing this cycle and allowing these connections to inform their planning, design and construction.

The next blog examines some of the ways in which we can make the most of this opportunity to create healthier buildings and happier communities.

 

[1] For further reading on the connection between the built environment and mental health why not have a gander at the following:

The International WELL Building Institute™

PCB Today – designing buildings to improve mental health

The Guardian: Could bad buildings damage your mental health?

Design Council – designing good mental health into cities

The Mental Health Foundation – mental health and the built environment blog

Bre Group research into the biophilic office

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