Making Mental Wellbeing a Priority for Generation Z
By Neil Elliott
DateDecember 6, 2017
Mental health and wellbeing is becoming a subject widely discussed particularity across the media, through various campaigns and in politics however, there is still a disconnection between awareness and active resilience to mental illness especially in our cities. Our environment and the services offered by key facilities can play an important role in either causing or preventing illness.
At the macro scale our cities are evolving. We’ve moved from disparate and individual city elements which have traditionally operated on a discrete basis, to cities where these elements and services are and will become increasingly grouped and inter-connected. We need to get to a place where this connectivity helps provide resilience to our cities. In the context of health and wellbeing this is directly related.
The World Health Organisation asserts that ‘There is no health without Mental Health’. Health is not just about physical health, and all contributing parts of the city and the design of the built environment can contribute.
People who live in cities are at higher risk of stress and mental disorders. In terms of Generation Z, there is increasing evidence that points to a growth in mental ill health amongst the UK’s adolescents. In order to address the widespread health issues arising within the younger generations, there needs to be an end to creating places and buildings that make us sick. There are several aggravating factors that currently exist, which contribute to mental ill health these include:
- Poor access to open spaces and nature;
- Bad air/light/water/food: air pollution/ closure of public fountains and toilets/ access to fresh food;
- Isolation and loneliness ;
- Poor housing;
- Lack of exercise;
- Over-centralised healthcare.
The education sector has the ability to positively and directly impact the mental health of young people. Nationally, there are 162 Higher Education establishments, over 370 Further Education Colleges housing over three million students. This doesn’t include the thousands of staff that work across the country supporting these institutions. This combined with the fact that these institutions are an integral part of their local communities means it is crucial that we find a way to create a more resilient cityscape that can support better mental health and wellbeing within the sector.
By addressing the factors above, it is possible to design and build educational facilities that will benefit students and staff alike. Thus demonstrating that the healthcare and education crossover can be a powerful tool in the future health and wellbeing of our society.
By not taking a preventative and inter-connected approach to helping students with mental health symptoms or illnesses, the demand for medical treatment will outstrip supply, which will evidently create more strain and cuts for the NHS.
The MIND Report published earlier this year highlighted that local authorities are spending less than 1% of their public health budget on mental health. In addition, the Mental Health Network factsheet 2016 said that ‘one in ten children and young people aged between five and 16 were reported as having a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder.’ But educational institutions are learning facilities for adults too, and with FE Colleges training and teaching over two million adults, mental health in education affects everyone. In recognition of this, we need to see more peer support networks and self-care to tackle the growing concern for mental health from school age onwards.
To design and develop more preventative measures that will benefit students and staff alike, IBI is working on a number of joint initiatives that create solutions at the heart of our communities by harnessing the unique aspects of our healthcare system and utilising the unique opportunities presented by our education estates.
At the meso scale, for example, Bootle in Merseyside is located in one of the country’s most deprived wards and has one of the country’s highest rates for people suffering with mental health issues. IBI is working in partnership with Hugh Baird College and Mersey Care NHS Trust to create a Health Engagement and Training Hub, which will deliver a similar service to the Mersey Care Life Rooms facility first pioneered in Walton Liverpool.
Hugh Baird has a strong pastoral care system that supports children, young adults and their families. Consequently, it is appropriate for them to create a community based, friendly mental health care provision, which will make early diagnosis of mental health issues, and ensure rapid preventative treatment for local residents and the young learners at Hugh Baird College.
The benefits of this approach in an educational setting are clear, and Hugh Baird College believe will contribute to:
- Improved student satisfaction;
- Improved staff productivity;
- Improved links to and with local communities.
In addition, this approach can help to reduce running costs of large establishments, by reducing incidences of illness related to mental health, drugs, and alcohol usage and reduced staff or student sickness. There is also the potential for lower running costs for buildings and less time spent addressing the impact of health issues on academic performance.
To conclude, by increasing the inter-connectivity between city services, buildings and spaces with ground-breaking projects such as this at Hugh Baird College, and by ensuring preventative steps are taken to be responsive to the needs of the younger generation, we can positively enhance the mental health and wellbeing of our educational establishments across the UK and make a significant contribution to the national picture.