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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?

(PAHO, 2019).

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).


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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: Accessed on: 31/03/20.

Hosang, G. (2016). Mind the GAPS Framework: The Impact of Urban Design and Mental Health and Wellbeing. Available at: Accessed on: 07/03/20.

Larson, L. and Ogletree, S. (2019). Can parks help cities fight crime? Available at: Accessed on: 31/03/20.

Mind. (2017). Mental Health Facts and Statistics. Available at: Accessed on: 31/03/20.

Movember (2020). Our work. About us. Available at: Accessed on: 31/03/20.

NYC Department of Design and Construction (NYC DDC). (undated). Design and construction excellence 2.0. Guiding principles. Available at: Accessed on: 07/03/20.

Office of National Statistics [ONS]. (2019). Suicides in the UK: 2018 registrations. Available at: Accessed on: 31/03/20.

PAHO (2019). Communication materials: mental health. Available at: Accessed on: 31/03/20.

Samaritans. (2019). Suicide facts and figures. Available at: Accessed on: 31/03/20.

Thete, V. (2018). Signal 4: Urban Planning for Better Mental Health. Available at: 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: 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: Accessed on 08/03/20.

World Health Organisation (WHO). (2018). Mental health: strengthening our response. Available at: Accessed on: 07/03/20.

4 responses to “Designing to Improve Mental Health: For a city to be whole, mental health should play a role.”

  1. I have to say that this is a very good topic, people’s quality of life has become better, more demanding, and the pace of life has become faster, which directly leads to the rise of people’s pressure in life and work. Perhaps because of the limited number of words, the author did not discuss the causes of people’s mental health too much? It also fails to mention the specific analysis based on different situations. How much is caused by the psychological health of people due to urban design, such as urban density, congestion, noise, smell, sight, chaos and pollution? It may also be due to other effects of personal relationships, family breakdown, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, illness [1].
    According to research, a short walk along a downtown waterfront with a design intervention we devised improved both perceived and physiological stress, as measured by heart rate variability.It makes people happy and cheerful [2].
    Increasing the construction of green Spaces, such as parks, gardens, sports venues, and outdoor Spaces, can help people relieve pressure. But also to staff in the busy work, have time to feel these beautiful environment. So where long work should be able to consider into some extract elements, effect or role will be bigger, good office environment and facilities, food is more conducive to people’s physical and mental health, and attract more excellent talents[3].

    [1]2020. [online] Available at. <, > [Accessed 19 May 2020]
    [2]2020. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 19 May 2020].
    [3]Kohll, A., 2020. How Your Office Space Impacts Employee Well- Being. [onlin..Forbes, Available at: < > [Accessed 19 May2020].

  2. Thank you, Kate, for exploring and analyzing such a pressing concern in the world! Mental health and anxiety levels are something that define us in struggling and complex situations and, I believe that focusing on green infrastructure and environmental urban design should be the way forward for the public (Rohe, 1985). It is also important to take into account that there are numerous personal and external factors that affect the mental state of people and urban design could not effectively accommodate all solutions to these outcomes (McCay et al., 2017).

    Although I completely agree with you that the current challenge found no concrete solutions in urban design, UD/MH (2020), which have been referenced in your blog, are currently assessing the impact of urban design on mental health. One of the initiatives, that personally intrigued me is the assessment of Greater Adelaide in South Australia (Hansen et al., 2019). The initiative explores the impacts of green and blue infrastructures in relation to forming active and social urban spaces in order to primarily tackle the issues of well-being and anxiety among the population. The ‘Thinker in Residence’ programme, established in 2003 and the ‘Health in All Policies’ programme, established in 2007 pave the way for the new State Public Health Plan 2019-2024 (Government of South Australia, 2020) to introduce the planning strategies that would generate livable, healthy and close-knit community in the city.

    Although it does not encompass the concrete solutions, I believe it is an important step in the right direction for countries to review their design and planning policies in regards to this evolving problem.

    Reference List:

    Government of South Australia (2020) State Public Health Plan. Available at: (Accessed: 5 May 2020).

    Hansen, T., Pfitzner, R. Williams, C., Keough, B., Galicki, C., Edwards, H., Bolton, S., Kelly, G. and Krebs, K. (2019) A Case Study of Urban Design for Wellbeing and Mental Health in Adelaide, Australia. Available at: (Accessed: 5 May 2020).

    McCay, L., Bremenr, I., Endale, T., Jannati, M. and Yi, J. (2017) ‘Urban design and mental health’, in Okkels, N., Kristiansen, C. and Munk-Jørgensen, P. (ed.) Mental health and illness in the City, pp. 1-24.

    Rohe, W. (1985) ‘Urban planning and mental health’, Prevention in Human Services, 4(1), pp. 79-110.

    UD/MH (2020) City Case Studies. Available at: (Accessed: 5 May 2020).

  3. Thank you for sharing, Kate! I agree that urban designers should be involved in this issue, especially about public spaces.

    Depression is a common mental problem, with more than 264 million people suffering from it, and it can cause those people to kill themselves (WHO, 2020). Public space, tall buildings, or bridges are an essential area that causes suicide. Therefore, related departments tried to see that space design will help reduce the likelihood of suicide. Every country has a significant point of suicide, and most of them are bridges. They tried to prevent suicide by designing a high fence or mesh, but the result is on the contrary. Because it will make that area become a suicide landmark, example at Mapo, South Korea (known as suicide bridge), they install light and put some quotes along the bridge such as “How are you doing,” “Don’t think too much,” “It will be better,” etc. Those words seem positive, but actually, it is aggravating to patients that they will think they are sick, weak, a burden. Then the suicide rate is increasing.

    On the other hand, If designing realistic green obstacles such as potted plants, plant walls, bush, etc. and make a pleasant atmosphere, it will likely reduce suicide. Easy accessibility is another factor for suicide, we could use high fence or mesh as a prevention, but need to cover or make buffer with green elements. Green elements could be a mental treatment (WHO, 2012), and it can be a gathering space which increases the frequency and amount of passersby. This is linked to the sense of belonging and eyes on street. These two are alternative ways of suicide prevention.

    However, I think the human mind is complicated, and the best way to heal mental health is human interaction. Urban space is just one of the supporters to encourage it to happen, and it’s necessary.


    World Health Organization. 2020. Depression. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 April 2020].

    Preventing suicides in public places A practice resource. (2015). [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 18 April 2020].

    Guidance on action to be taken at suicide hotspots. (2006). [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 18 April 2020].

    Strandqvist, Y., 2019. Better Architectural Design Could Prevent Suicide. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 April 2020].

    Berg, N., 2012. Preventing Suicide With Architecture. [online] CityLab. Available at: [Accessed 18 April 2020].

    Chae, L., 2018. Designing For Suicidal Users: Preventing Suicide The Modern Way. [online] UX Collective. Available at: [Accessed 18 April 2020].

  4. Kate, I agree that urban designers have a responsibility to ensure mental health is a factor of everyday design for both large and small scale developments. However, I also believe that more pressure should be put on the government to finance and endorse the same principles, as green spaces in the UK are funded mainly by the public sector – 70% from local authorities and 15% from Central Government and the EU [1].

    Cuts in Central Government grants to local authorities resulted in a deduction in spending on open spaces, including green spaces, of 10.5% between 2010 and 2013 [2]. The largest reductions were made in the north-east, making up 38.7%, whilst the smallest reductions were in the south-east, making up only 3.4% of cuts [3]. This reveals an additional issue of disparity in spending and subsequent provision of green spaces, meaning some areas of the country are prioritised over others. With the most neighbourhoods suffering from depression being in the north and midlands [4], the lack of government funding in these areas is an issue that requires addressing.

    92% of park managers reported that their maintenance budgets had reduced between 2013 and 2016 [5]. During this period, 18% of local authorities also believed the condition of their public green spaces had declined [6].

    This highlights the importance of the public sector in supporting urban designers not only deliver additional measures to improve mental health within the urban setting, but also ensure these amenities can be maintained to a standard that continually promotes good mental health.


    [1] Houses of Parliament (2016) Green Space and Health, The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, London.

    [2] Drayson, K. & Newey, G. (2014) Green Society: Policies to improve the UK’s urban green spaces, Policy Exchange, London.

    [3] Drayson, K. & Newey, G. (2013) Park Land: How open data can improve our urban green spaces, Policy Exchange, London.

    [4] Pidd, H. (2019) Most depressed English communities ‘in north and Midlands’, Available at: [Accessed on 08/04/20].

    [5] Heritage Lottery Fund (2016) State of UK: Public Parks.

    [6] Benjamin, A. & Adu, A. (2016) UK’s public parks face ‘decline and neglect’,  Available at: [Accessed on 08/04/20].

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