Built in Mental Wellness

Salus populi suprema lex esto, is a principle Lucinda Brogden, Australian National Mental Health Commission Chair, espouses with strength and credibility. A maxim that can be traced back to Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, its translation, the health of the people should be the supreme law, shines a poignant light on figures indicating that some forty five per cent of Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in their life.

At the recent Urban Leaders Boardroom Lunch, hosted by the Cities Leadership Institute, Lucinda emphasized that to start the long road to prevent mental health and suicide urban leaders need to take a holistic approach. This means that alongside the delivery of mental health care there needs to be steps taken to address the impact of housing, employment, education and social justice on the individuals’ mental health and wellbeing.

Post lunch debrief with some of the participants.

This could include creating safe places in the communities for people to go when in crisis that are not the hospital emergency department or working with health professionals to build the capacity of the community to understand and mitigate factors that can lead to anxiety and depression.

As each community and each individual need vary context matters and Lucinda strongly advocated the value of co-design, co-production and co-creation to tailor and prioritize local actions.

Building capacity of urban of urban leaders also requires an understanding of how the built environment impacts mental health and wellbeing. The work of architectural design psychologist Dr Jan Golembiewski examines how physical and social environments can contribute positively or negatively to mental health and wellbeing.

Whether intentional or not, signs, symbols, noise, colours and surface texture all send stimuli that need to be considered in the planning and management of public spaces. Dr Golembiewski goes further and encourages planners to use a framework based on manageability, comprehensibility and meaningfulness to design and develop communities that not just support personal wellbeing, but also to achieve resilient, sustainable cities.

A key challenge is for planners and health professionals to come together, to use a common language and proactively collaborate. Whether it is placing the individual at the centre of a health care model or putting people at the centre of a city through a place-based approach both professions are seeking the same outcome of making health the supreme law.

Katherine O’Regan

Executive Director, Cities Leadership Institute

#UrbanSpaces #mentalhealth

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