For many, a young person’s first experience of a home away from home is in student accommodation. Yet, sadly, in the UK, it is estimated that 29% of students will suffer clinical levels of mental distress. (Bewick et al.) Emphasis is being placed on catering for the pastoral needs of residents, within student accommodation, who are reaching out for support more than ever before. (Williams et al, 2015).

it is estimated that 29% of students will suffer clinical levels of mental distress.

How can we encourage better mental health through good student accommodation design?
  • Consider the likelihood of human contact on arrival. We have witnessed older student hall properties which allow the bypassing of all human contact, when walking from the street to the student’s private room. Alternatively, a well-positioned receptionist, or night guard, will have the ability to check a student's presentation on a daily basis.
  • Cater private rooms with amenities that promote wellbeing. Every bedroom should offer a small double bed, generous desk, as well as adequate storage for clothing, books, lever arch files, a large suitcase and carry-on. Pin boards and a simple picture rail moulding can go a long way to offer easy, damage free personalisation.
    Sleep hygiene can be promoted through:
        1. natural light and blackout curtains to support the Circadian rhythm,
        2. easy access to a water supply for good hydration,
        3. bed comfort,
        4. soundproofing,
        5. temperature control,
        6. good air quality and
        7. views towards green spaces (Student Minds, 2017).
  • Reduce conflict in shared zones. Where do many peer-to-peer conflicts lie? Indubitably, in shared kitchens. These should be easy to clean, fire safe, and offer multiple appliances, so double up on sinks, ovens, and fridges for clusters of more than 5 residents. A noticeboard can facilitate responsibility sharing and communication. It is also helpful to outline expectations for the common room (or rooms) - are these social spaces, with games tables and TVs or will they attract collaborative work teams and/or solo study?
  • Target your design to support the students you intend to attract. Artists and designers will have different needs to other academics. Designing for messy work and collaborative study can be immensely cost effective, as it reduces the need for oversized working areas within private rooms, and has the sleep hygiene benefit of separating the workspace from the sleeping space. Younger residents, and busy final year postgraduates, may be tempted by halls with on-site catering.
Student Housing
  • Support your staff. Good design should also support staff in supporting students. Oftentimes, while staff are keen to offer a listening ear to students in need (Student Minds, 2017), there is no adequate private space to do this. One should also consider how to make this support toolkit known - this can range from social events to one to one sessions related to anxiety, funding or personal health. Space permitting, we’ve also known staff to curate a lending library of useful (and sanitised!) objects e.g. mannequins, technical drawing boards, sewing machines, crutches and so on.
  • Use technology to your advantage. Through an integrated AV system, notices can be shared digitally from HQ or reception, and updated on the fly. The student body will expect your building's tech spec to evolve alongside technological innovation - from strong Wi-fi to teleconferencing to on-site Amazon lockers.
  • Clever environmental graphics can go a long way. Full wall pin boards and chalkboards can encourage skill sharing, peer to peer collaboration, and interaction with the surrounding community. Consider curating these living walls, while reinforcing your brand and messaging, by involving graphic designers early in the design process.
  • Don’t forget sound design. Effective sound design to reduce transmittance between spaces is critical – Foundation students’ leaving parties might coincide with a post graduate's eve to their viva!
Conclusion

Incorporating design that supports student mental health at concept stage can be achieved with thoughtful design planning, by engaging the right multidisciplinary team of architects, interior planners, sound and graphic designers. It is a fruitful investment that will protect your brand’s reputation in the long run, by minimising the likelihood of catastrophic events which have become all too common in the student community. Student satisfaction will thrive in happy, healthy homes that give welfare and the overall student experience the attention it finally deserves.

References

Bewick, Bridgette Maree, Jan Gill, B. Mulhearn, Michael Barkham, and Andrew J. Hill. “Using electronic surveying to assess psychological distress within the UK student population: a multisite pilot investigation.” E-Journal of Applied Psychology 4, no. 2 (2008).

Newman, O. “10 classic student house arguments - and how to avoid them”, The Independent (2013).

Student Minds “Student living: collaborating to support mental health in university accommodation.” UPP Foundation (2017).

Williams, M., Coare P., Marvell R., Pollard, E., Houghton A., and Anderson, J. “Understanding provision for students with mental health problems and intensive support needs.” Institute for Employment Studies and Researching Equity, Access and Partnership – HEFCE (2015).

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