WELL Buildings: Supporting Mental Health

“Smart employers know that organisations are only as strong as their people. By supporting staff mental wellbeing, they reap the benefits through enhanced morale, loyalty, commitment, innovation, productivity and profitability.”

The charity Mind, in its advice to businesses on how to assess mental health in the workplace, highlights the enhanced performance that inevitably comes when employees feel valued and supported.

So far our WELL Buildings series has looked at air quality and thermal comfort, each of which contribute to the invisible environment and have a significant effect on our physical wellbeing. But mental health is just as important, and just as likely to be affected by the environment created in our buildings.

One in four adults in the UK experience a mental illness at some point each year, with anxiety and depression among the most common examples. This has a significant effect not only on the people concerned, but also on their employers, as one-third of work sickness notes now given out by GPs are for mental health issues.

Promotion, Prevention and Intervention

Recognising the need to promote good mental health in the workplace, the WELL Building standard includes ‘Mind’ as one of its ten key concepts. “Given the high prevalence of mental health conditions among the working population, the workplace is increasingly being seen as an important target for mental health promotion, prevention and interventions,” the guidance says.

A commitment to support occupants is a precondition of the standard, with education and awareness initiatives among the ways to demonstrate this. Access to nature is also key, with building design playing an important role.

Water, natural light and views of nature can have a significant effect on morale and efficiency, as well as helping to reduce absenteeism. And research by CBRE and the University of Twente found even small amounts of exposure to plants in the office boost performance, with the effect coming from both real and artificial plants.

More than three-quarters of participants felt more energised after greenery was introduced, while 65% felt healthier. WELL recommends contact with living nature where possible, but indirect exposure through views out of windows or use of photographs is also effective.

Relaxation and Restoration

As with all WELL Building concepts, those who wish to create truly supportive buildings can aim for higher ratings through ‘optimisations’. In the mind category, these include creating restorative spaces, designed specifically for relaxation and restoration. Lighting, thermal comfort and noise levels are among the key design elements.

Beyond these criteria, heating and air quality have a role to play in supporting mental health throughout a building. A recent survey found office workers believe a good heating system is the most important factor when it comes to maintaining mental health at work, particularly when winter weather can have an adverse effect on moods.

Meanwhile, University of York researchers found air pollution can be as damaging to mental health as bereavement and divorce.

Globally, depression and anxiety alone are thought to cost around £750 million in lost productivity each year. Whether through pursuit of the WELL Building standard or as part of day-to-day life in their organisation, businesses cannot afford to ignore opportunities to support the mental health of every member of staff.

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