Approximately 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems (Mind, 2017). Suicide is the biggest killer of young people, especially amongst men (Unknown, 2017). Globally, 1 male per minute takes their life (Movember, 2020).
Mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes 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” (WHO, 2018).
What’s the link between mental health and cities?
(Carter and Swinney, 2018).
With the emergence of smart cities, urban sprawl and increased mobility, cities have seen exponential growth in their populations. However, designing to promote good mental health is frequently overlooked, with urban designers often lacking the expertise or the remit to consider it (UDG, 2017, p.25). Currently city-living can evoke a 40% increased risk of depression, over 20% higher risk of anxiety and double the risk of schizophrenia compared to people living in rural areas (UDG, 2017, p.25).
So, how can urban design improve city dweller’s mental health?
(Larson and Ogletree, 2019).
The ‘Mind the GAPS Framework’, from The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, has identified four key features which, when designed into a place, help improve people’s mental health: green places, active places, pro-social places and safe places (Hosang, 2016).
- Green spaces are essential for reducing stress and depression, by providing opportunities for social interaction and physical activity (UDG, 2017, p.26). Incorporating this into smaller focused areas, means designers can help to encourage informal social interactions within people’s daily routines.
- Exercise positively impact mental health by improving people’s mood, sleep, self-esteem, social interactions and reducing their stress and anxiety levels (UD/MH, undated). Urban designers can facilitate greater physical activity by providing access to parks, implementing pedestrian, running and cycle paths and making pavements more appealing through positioning of shops and facilities.
- To create a sense of community, a place should incorporate 3 design elements: increase interaction opportunities, flexible spaces, and places to meet the population requirements (NYC DDC, undated, p.107). These help to provide a sense of belonging, improving people’s mental health.
- Use of good lighting, landmarks and wayfinding features in street design can help to increase people’s perceptions of safety within cities, in turn reducing anxiety levels (UDG, 2017, p.27).
Urban designers as mental health champions!
If cities are to become healthier places to live and we are going to tackle the ever-increasing problem of mental health, urban designers must produce masterplans that incorporates features to secure the good mental health of its occupants.
Carter, A. and Swinney, P. (2018). The UK’s rapid return to city centre living. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44482291. Accessed on: 31/03/20.
Hosang, G. (2016). Mind the GAPS Framework: The Impact of Urban Design and Mental Health and Wellbeing. Available at: https://www.urbandesignmentalhealth.com/mind-the-gaps-framework.html. Accessed on: 07/03/20.
Larson, L. and Ogletree, S. (2019). Can parks help cities fight crime? Available at: http://theconversation.com/can-parks-help-cities-fight-crime-118322. Accessed on: 31/03/20.
Mind. (2017). Mental Health Facts and Statistics. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems.aspx. Accessed on: 31/03/20.
Movember (2020). Our work. About us. Available at: https://us.movember.com/about/cause. Accessed on: 31/03/20.
NYC Department of Design and Construction (NYC DDC). (undated). Design and construction excellence 2.0. Guiding principles. Available at: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ddc/downloads/DDC-Guiding-Principles-2016.pdf. Accessed on: 07/03/20.
Office of National Statistics [ONS]. (2019). Suicides in the UK: 2018 registrations. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2018registrations. Accessed on: 31/03/20.
PAHO (2019). Communication materials: mental health. Available at: https://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_docman&view=list&slug=paho-who-communication-materials-8055&Itemid=270&lang=en. Accessed on: 31/03/20.
Samaritans. (2019). Suicide facts and figures. Available at: https://www.samaritans.org/about-samaritans/research-policy/suicide-facts-and-figures/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw1Iv0BRDaARIsAGTWD1tyvgewxobxEuZE2G_Q0LW9bhoHS5e-yU9FZXtjoT_UafXlXQT-4W0aAnJpEALw_wcB. Accessed on: 31/03/20.
Thete, V. (2018). Signal 4: Urban Planning for Better Mental Health. Available at: https://medium.com/civic-analytics/signal-4-urban-planning-for-better-mental-health-e41867fb733. Accessed on: 31/03/20.
Unknown. (2017). 12 statistics to get you thinking about mental health in young people, on MQ: Transforming Mental Health Through Research. Available at: https://www.mqmentalhealth.org/posts/12-statistics. Accessed on: 31/03/20.
Urban Design Group (UDG). (2017). Designing Mental Health into Cities, in Health and Urban Design. 142. Available at: file:///C:/Users/katej/Documents/masters/design%20thesis/readings/urban%20design%20group%20-%20magazine%20Health%20and%20Urban%20Design.pdf. Accessed on: 16/02/20.
Urban Design Mental Health (UD/MH). (undated). How urban design can impact mental health. Available at: https://www.urbandesignmentalhealth.com/how-urban-design-can-impact-mental-health.html. Accessed on 08/03/20.
World Health Organisation (WHO). (2018). Mental health: strengthening our response. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response. Accessed on: 07/03/20.