The landscape of mental health (by Alex)

The increasing awareness of our environment has become a focal point within many professions over the last decade and health services across the world have started to reengage with nature. This is largely down to two main factors; the increase in “diseases of 21st Century living – obesity, diabetes and depression” (Natural England, 2009) and the positive impact of the natural environment on people’s lives.

The WHO predicts that by the year 2020 depression will be the second largest single cause of ill health in the world and the British Government have also stated that one in four people will directly experience mental health problems.

As landscape architects do we have a place in the future of mental health care through design? There are already successful examples of site specific design, such as the healing gardens at Roseberry Park in Middlesbrough. This kind of scheme allows the designer to specifically cater to a group of users and tailor the garden elements, creating a suitable environment for them. But can this kind of design be translated to wider landscape schemes?

Back in the days of CABE Space they reported that the most used open space was local parks but these could often be the most neglected and sometimes seen as unsafe. CABE also stated that poorly designed, maintained and managed local parks were often in areas of higher deprivation.

When we approach a new project we may not be considering mental health in the landscape design but perhaps we should consider some design principles that could support the end users;

  • The immediate contact with nature, either views or physical
  • Use of local materials and plants
  • Aesthetics
  • Awareness or familiarity of the past
  • Sense of control
  • The provision of social support
  • Promotion of physical movement
  • Ease of access to nature

These design principles largely seem straight forward and would probably be considered for most schemes but the eventual aim should be to create healthier environments to prevent the issues before it starts to affect our wellbeing.

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