A fundamental component of human health, mental health is a state of well-being in which people can live to their fullest potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to their community. It is determined by a range of socioeconomic, biological and environmental factors. Architects and interior designers can support good mental health through the proper design of spaces.

Incorporating nature into a space supports wellness including light and views, plants, natural materials, natural patterns and colors and artwork depicting nature. Exposure to plants and other natural elements has been linked with decreased levels of diastolic blood pressure, depression, and anxiety and an increased attention capacity, better recovery from stress and illness, increase psychological well-being, and increased pain tolerance. Plants also improve morale, efficiency, and job satisfaction, and decrease absenteeism in the workplace. Incorporating water can also relieve stress, promote job satisfaction, and enhance job performance. Exposure to natural light has a substantial impact on mood, circadian health, and productivity. Exposure to greenery and other natural views create positive emotional and cognitive health including stress reduction, memory recall, and other benefits. Contact with actual living nature has a stronger effect than artwork representing nature. Below are some ways to provide access to nature within a workspace:

• A large percentage of the exterior building site has landscaped grounds, rooftop gardens, or other natural elements.

• Indoor plants and/or water feature(s) are within a direct line of sight of at least 75% of occupants. If water feature(s) are included, they should use an ultraviolet sanitation or other technology to address water safety.

• Views of nature such as parks, forests, rivers, lakes, and oceans are within a direct line of site of at least 75% of building occupants.

• Buildings can be within walking distance, about 1,000 feet, from a park, lake, or beach.

During the workday, people experience fatigue caused by a depletion of physical and mental resources, resulting in an accumulated need to recover from mental fatigue and stress. Prolonged fatigue causes psychological stress including decreased mental acuity, low motivation, and irritability. Providing indoor and outdoor restorative spaces, ideally both, for people to step away, recharge, and refocus helps alleviate this issue. Incorporating nature and other restorative elements into these restorative spaces further helps alleviate this issue. Within a workplace, there should ideally be designated interior spaces to be used exclusively for relaxation, contemplation, and restoration. A total of 75 square feet per building occupant up to a maximum of 800 square feet is recommended. Proper lighting design, acoustical design, and proper temperatures are a must within these spaces. Moreover, they should be private, accessible to those with disabilities, have calming colors, textures and forms, and have a variety of seat types such as cushions, mats, chairs, etc. Outdoor spaces for restoration are also recommended, and should include the same design requirements mentioned above.

The layout of a space can make a huge impact on someone’s ability to focus and manage stress. Open-plan offices result in lower productivity, increased distraction and concentration, and poorer health, primarily because of increased background noise and distraction on working memory. People with jobs that require high levels of concentration are negatively affected more than those that do not require as much concentration in open-plan office spaces. A lack of privacy and control over the surroundings create psychological discomfort. While private offices are ideal for productivity, concentration, reduced stress, and overall health, it’s often not feasible to provide them for most employees. Offices spaces that have an open plan can mitigate some of the negative effects by allowing individuals to adjust their environment according to personal preferences and task requirements. To support opportunities for focus, the below can be incorporated into the design of a space:

• Provide work zones that support a variety of work functions such as quiet work vs. collaborative work that people can use, and a system for booking the various spaces.

• Provide a process for requesting an alternative workspace if the assigned workspace doesn’t meet someone’s needs.

• Designate quiet zones, rooms, and hours.

• Provide noise-cancelling or noise-reducing headphones and/or earplugs.

• Provide a system to indicate do-not-disturb time such as a flag system.

• Provide lockers for those that don’t have a permanent workstation to store personal belongings so people can move workstations to one located in an area that fits their needs.

Good sleep quality is fundamental to good mental and physical health. Regularly sleeping fewer than seven hours per night is associated with a number of chronic, adverse health problems including impaired immune function, weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, anxiety and depression, physical pain, impaired performance and productivity, and increased errors and accidents. Getting less than 6 hours of sleep for just one night is also linked to about 20% of car accidents and 6,000 fatal crashes per year in the U.S. To mitigate the effects of sleepiness, offices can provide a private napping space, at least one per every 100 people. For more information on how sleep affects health and the ways to support good sleep through design, see our other article:

About 18% of adults will experience a mental health condition over a 1-year period of time. Over 30% of people will experience one in their lifetime. Mental and physical health impact each other greatly, and building and interior designers can have a significant impact on the both.