The Importance of Well-Being // A Rant
Well-being and mental health are hot topics of conversation at the moment and rightly so. But should ‘design for well-being’ be a thing? Designing for well-being, designing to aid mental health, shouldn’t these just be instilled within general design? Unfortunately, this isn’t always taken into account when designing and students of today are hit with this even harder. Typically and traditionally, student accommodation is designed to fit as many beds as possible, for the smallest possible cost (it’s a business at the end of the day, right?). But this often means that the mental health and well-being of our young people suffers as a result.
Trigger warning: the following paragraph contains statistics regarding mental health and suicide and may not be suitable for some readers.
Every year, universities, charities and private companies conduct surveys and release figures that depict the current state of affairs within student mental health. As a recent graduate and someone that has suffered from poor mental health for over a decade, these figures truly upset me. The Prince’s Trust are reporting the lowest levels of happiness in young people ever recorded (UniversitiesUK, 2018), and according to Unite Students, students continually score between 15-20% lower than the UK average across all well-being measures. The number of students dropping out of university due to mental health concerns has trebled over recent years and even more worryingly, student suicide rates have nearly doubled to reach an all-time high (Independent, 2017). This should not be happening.
I was lucky enough to win a week in Barcelona courtesy of Global Student Accommodation, learning the tricks of the trade when it comes to designing for well-being. Although this was an amazing experience, it saddened me to realise how ‘behind the times’ we are in the UK. Designing studios that isolate our students, allowing them to hide away and distance themselves from help and support. Creating dysfunctional adults who can’t cohabit or make compromises, due to accommodation that (dare I say it) is TOO convenient.
I will say that developers are now designing communal spaces that address some of these issues, but IT ISN’T ENOUGH! Think about it. How does a student spend their university years? A lot of, if not most of their time is spent in their bedroom, whether they’re sleeping (we do a lot of that), studying (probably not as much as we should) or relaxing. And so it makes sense that this is the space we focus on and make sure we get it right. This can be achieved through addressing the principles of well-being…
Body – it’s pretty simple. Physical health plays a huge role in our mental health. Exercising and eating properly are fundamental to our development. Unfortunately, these are often two areas that students fall short on, but providing a SOCIAL and ENGAGING shared kitchen will promote a healthier lifestyle.
Mind – okay so it’s pretty obvious that students need to study, but it’s just as important for them to switch off. I was a sucker for ‘just finishing that’ before going to bed and finding myself still working at 5am with a lecture at 9am. Is communal study the way forward? Should a bedroom be just that, a bedroom, a space to sleep and nothing else?
Spirit – for me this ties in with my earlier comment about dysfunctional adults. If students have all they need within the confinement of their bedroom, will they learn how to share spaces? How to compromise on things? Essentially, how to develop social skills? Being a small cog in a large wheel of communal living will allow students to share experiences, to find new interests and grow as a person.
People – a similar concept to the above, connecting with both different and like-minded people are essential parts of growing up. Learning how to deal with people who maybe don’t share the same ideas or disagree completely, it’s an important learning curve. It’s all about being social and forming meaningful and lasting relationships that aid our well-being.
Place – the biggest thing I’m trying to get across with this blog post is the importance that our environment plays with our mental health. Being proud of our home, being able to personalise our space and feeling comfortable in the spaces we inhabit are essential for well-rounded well-being. The use of biophilic elements like natural materials, natural light and effective use of plantation can go a long way in making a temporary setting feel like home. Studies have shown that through biophilic design, productivity can be increased by 8%, rates of well-being by 13%, creativity is increased, absenteeism reduced and test results improved, as well as guests willing to pay 23% more for rooms with biophilic elements. Through research conducted during my time in Barcelona, we found that personalisation is a huge thing for students, being able to make their bedroom their own played a large role in picking their accommodation as well as having ample storage to store their personal possessions. We also found that en-suites aren’t actually as necessary as once thought and I’ll say it again, NO STUDIOS!
Planet – the concern for our planet is growing and rightly so. We as designers need to make sustainability a priority in all of the projects we work on. Through the use of renewable resources recycled materials and restoring dated spaces we can play our small part in making our world a better place to be.
Sincere apologies if this blog post has turned into a bit of a rant, but I guess this is a plea to the powers that be, the well-being and mental health of our young people is critically important. To all developers, please listen to your designers when they make suggestions to aid well-being. To designers, please make those suggestions. And finally to students, it does get better.