Let’s get our heads round mental health

Words:
Ben Channon

The Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum has been formed to raise awareness and offer help to those suffering in this high-pressure profession

Over the past few years mental health has been brought to the forefront of society  – and so to the profession of architecture. And as concepts such as ‘self-care’ and ‘work-life balance’ have permeated into the way we talk about work, and what we expect from our jobs, it’s important that our profession responds.

Architecture, both as a career and a day-to-day job, can be extremely demanding. Everyone reading this will know first-hand of the pressures and pains it brings. We strive for perfection because we see ourselves in our work. But by putting so much of ourselves into what we do, other aspects of our lives can suffer. Too often, this is our mental and physical health.

After a series of alarming mental health statistics from the RIBA and the press, and with my own experience studying my Part 3 still fresh in my mind, I thought it was time to create a space where architects could talk freely, in terms of mental wellbeing, about our profession, it’s practices and how we can better serve our peers and those aspiring to join us.

You don’t have to spend very long in an architecture department at a university to see tired eyes and hear tales of burn-out. This work ethic doesn’t cease after university – if anything, it can be exacerbated by the pressures of the commercial world. It bleeds into every aspect of our lives and despite the omnipresence of wellbeing issues in architectural work and education, official, institution-led support mechanisms is poor.

But idea has become reality. The Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum seeks to begin a conversation on mental wellbeing within architecture and press for changes to the way we work. Although our forum is still in its nascent stages, our ambitions are large. Involving architects and human resource professionals from leading UK practices known for their excellent treatment of staff, we hope to share knowledge and research, and examine ways of improving the day-to-day working lives of architects. We want to rid the profession of the pernicious, macho and almost masochistic aspects of work in order to make architects happier and, in turn, better at what they do. And to make sure that it’s not just a talking shop, Katie Vivian from the Architects’ Benevolent Society (ABS) and Virginia Newman, RIBA’s mental health champion, complete the group, ensuring that we have input beyond our respective practices.

We want to rid the profession of the pernicious, macho and almost masochistic aspects of work in order to make architects happier

Since our kick-off meeting in January, we have refined our rather lofty ambitions. We want to create a ‘toolkit’ in collaboration with the RIBA to give architects and employers guidance on how to promote healthy mental wellbeing in the workplace, as well as opening a dialogue with universities to try and nip in the bud the issues that spill over into the profession. In particular, we will be working alongside Sheffield student Melissa Kirkpatrick, who is doing stellar research work on mental health and architectural education, supported by the ABS. Through events, research pieces and social media initiatives, we will give mental wellbeing in architecture the attention it truly deserves.

By reading this piece, you – whether you know it or not – have helped in some way to raise the issue of mental wellbeing in architecture. So, instead of eating a sandwich at your desk again, how about you take some time out, sit with your colleagues, eat a leisurely lunch, and discuss how your practice could better support the mental and physical wellbeing of its staff? I – and everyone else at The Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum – would love to hear what you think.

If you would like more information, would like to get involved, or have a (good or bad) story you wish to share, contact @AMWForum on Twitter, benchannon@assael.co.uk (AMWF chair) or virginia.newman@ksrarchitects.com (RIBA’s mental health champion).

Ben Channon is a senior architect and mental wellbeing ambassador at Assael Architecture


 

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