Ben Channon

Mental Health in Architecture: Supporting Wellbeing During the Lockdown and Beyond

The lockdown and impending recession are causing considerable stress to architects, particularly given the impacts they are having on the profession. Lucy Ingham speaks to Ben Channon, head of wellbeing at Assael Architecture and founder of the Architects Mental Wellbeing Forum about the mental health challenges facing the industry, and what practices can do to help

Ben Channon

Architecture is a stressful vocation at the best of times, but amid the lockdown and feared recession, the mental health of practitioners is particularly under strain.

The combined challenges of coordinating with clients and colleagues, dealing with delayed construction and grappling with home life – be it bored children, cramped living spaces or a lack of socialisation – are all combining to add considerable stress to architects, and risking their wellbeing in the process.

Furthermore, concerns surrounding a slowdown in work due to the recession – something that many architects are already beginning to see – is adding to mental health concerns plaguing architecture. So what can firms do to help support their employees?

Ben Channon, head of wellbeing at Assael Architecture and founder of the Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum, is well aware of the challenges facing the industry, and in a bid to help, the organisation has developed a Covid-19 Toolkit designed to provide advice and support on the issue.

We spoked to Channon about the mental health issues facing architecture, and what firms can to help maintain employee wellbeing during this fraught period.

Lucy Ingham: Why did you decide to launch the Covid-19 Toolkit for architects?

Ben Channon: We know this is a difficult time for most people – we're having our good days and our bad days. However, there is a real risk that, for some people, mental health might deteriorate dramatically as a result of isolation, health worries and blurred boundaries between work and downtime.

Furthermore, a fall in workloads for many architects has seen furloughing and even pay cuts across the industry, which brings with it a number of concerns, from fears over financial security to the dilemma of how to create a new routine and maintain a sense of purpose when on furlough.

Our mission at the Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum has always been to improve mental health in the industry, and at this time we felt it was vital to support people working in architecture as quickly as we could. I hope this toolkit provides some help and resources which make a difference to anybody who is struggling.

LI: What are the biggest mental health concerns for architects at present?

BC: It’s important to remember that we are undergoing a time of real change, and this can be difficult for people. We are all trying to get our heads around the long-term impacts of this pandemic, and it’s affecting everything from our daily thought patterns; use of news and social media; and even our sleep and dreams.

Combine this with isolation and loneliness, which we know are very bad for our mental health, and it’s no surprise that many people are finding this a challenging time. And, as mentioned above, job security is a cause of anxiety for many people right now, and not just in architecture.

LI: The toolkit features a number of tips for architects on maintaining wellbeing during the pandemic - what are your favourite pieces of advice?

BC: I’m always encouraging people – particularly architects – to remember the importance of self-care.

As an industry we seem to have developed a habit of perfectionism and a ‘project comes first’ mentality, which is great for our clients but it can often mean our own mental health suffers.

For this reason, I love the self-care ideas in the toolkit – I’ve personally been finding pleasure in the small things during lockdown, such as riding my bike and re-learning how to paint.

LI: Have you heard of any approaches particular architects or practices have taken that have proved effective?

BC: It was great to hear from different members of the Forum at our last meeting about the different ideas they’ve been implementing to support staff, from online fitness clubs to buddy schemes, and more formal support such as resilience training and online CPDs.

At Assael, we’ve found a number of things have been particularly effective, including keeping our long-standing Friday afternoon drinks and announcements going, but now over Zoom, followed by an office-wide chat session; and more social elements, such as an Assael Strava club for runners, movie nights, newsletters three times a week with updates, challenges and quizzes, and drawing events to help everybody stay better connected.

LI: How do you anticipate the expected recession impacting architects' wellbeing, and how should architects prepare themselves?

BC: Ever the optimist, I am actually hopeful that the economy will bounce back more quickly than from a traditional recession. This economic dip has not been caused by market forces but by an external anomaly, so fingers crossed we do see the ‘V-shaped’ bounce-back that some economists are predicting.

Fundamentally though, by creating a resilient mindset we can all become more resistant to the impact of external conditions on our happiness. For me, this was about gaining a better understanding of what was important to both my happiness and my own mind through a daily mindfulness practice, but there are many different routes to nurturing resilience.

It comes down to respecting your mental health as much as we do our physical health – and this means respecting things like sleep, diet, fitness and yes, alcohol too! And of course, keeping in touch with people, even if it is more difficult than usual right now.

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Images courtesy of 2N