How School Design and Architecture Can Impact Students’ Mental Health

January 20, 2020
Mental Health and School architecture

There has been a startling increase in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and even suicide among today’s students. To tackle the issue, communities are beginning to question every factor that could impact a student’s psychological condition, including school architecture and mental health.

School is the center of a child’s life, so naturally it’s important to provide a positive educational environment for students. A school’s architecture and design can improve student’s mental health by helping them overcome daily struggles, open unfiltered discussion, and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

LAN Architect Matthew Fink, AIA, teamed up with Gabriella Mullady Fink, a mental health professional, and Ramsey School Superintendent and mental health first aid instructor Dr. Matthew Murphy. They examined beyond what is being taught in the classroom and focused on the impact that a classroom itself has on a student’s mental health.

In an article and interview published by Architecture Matters, these experts discuss the role of school architecture in the mental health of today’s students. They conclude, the more that students talk about mental health the more comfortable they will be asking for help.  This process starts with destigmatizing mental illness issues and creating an open conversation. Some schools have even started integrating mental health education into their curriculum.

For schools that have not integrated mental health into their curriculum, architects like Matt view a school’s design as the “third teacher” that can help bridge the gap.  He works on creating nurturing spaces that make children feel safe. He points to specific architectural design elements like varied learning spaces and biophilic elements that help cognitive function and promote better mental health. This makes the school feel like a true “home away from home.”

“We also need to realize that schools are no longer the stark, institutional boxes of the past,” says Matt Fink. “They should be thoughtful, engaging, community-infused spaces that lend to the goals of the community they serve.”

When Matt starts the design of an educational space, he engages the community. He sits down with key stakeholders to brainstorm a personalized learning facility with features that promote learning as well as good mental health. He concentrates on spaces that create a connection among students in an age where technology can be a detriment to true connection and even harm social skills.

Not every school can have state-of-the-art architecture, but even some basic retrofitting and creative design elements can make a big difference in the student experience.

This is an interesting and important topic that deserves everyone’s attention.

Follow the links below to learn about their conclusions on:

  • Engaging the community and key stakeholders in a brainstorming session to personalize the learning environment before construction.
  • Ways to create the positive and safe environments we need.
  • Addressing the needs of general safety through lock downs and intruder procedures.
  • Successfully retrofitting old buildings to meet modern standards and incorporating creative design elements.

Keeping Our Children Safe Using Design as a Tool to Encourage Better Mental Health and Happiness in Schools. 

As part of the same initiative the team recorded a video of their discussion on the topic.