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    Serious information gaps and concerns found in review of architecture’s state of mental health

    Nathan Johnson

    New research commissioned by the NSW Architects Registration Board finds that practicing and aspiring architects could be at a heightened risk of mental illness.

    Authored by Professor John Mendoza, Adjunct Assoc Professor at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, Literature Review Architects and Mental Health finds that research on the mental health and wellbeing of those involved in the Australian architectural industry is lacking, which is particularly concerning considering the high-number of mental illness risk factors and triggers associated with the profession.

    The review shows mental illness is a special risk for those architects working in isolation, like those practicing in rural and regional NSW, as well as students within the architecture faculties of Australian universities. It also noted that behavioural trends traditionally associated with the job, like poor sleep patterns, poor diet, and high-stress environments are now shown to be linked to long term mental illness and should be reversed.

    The review also follows on from recent mental health research overseas which yielded bleak results for the architecture profession. In July, a report published by the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention showed that architects and engineers are the fifth most likely group to commit suicide by occupation in the US. Also in July, the UK’s Architect’s Journal published its annual student survey which revealed that 26 per cent of the students surveyed said they were receiving or had received medical help for mental health problems resulting from their course, while a further quarter of respondents (26 per cent) feared they would have to seek professional help in the future.

    But while the Uni of Sydney review doesn’t attempt to make conclusive statements about the state of the profession’s mental health and wellbeing as the above do, it does uncover a real lack of conclusive data that could inform such assessments and, subsequently, the establishment of appropriate support systems for the industry going forward.

    Part of the problem, says Mendoza, is that the architectural profession is so diverse that it needs its own specific support infrastructure tailored to individual experiences.

    “Given the breadth and diversity of the industry, the architectural profession needs to design its own strategies tailored to the student experience at university and through the spectrum of sole operator, small practices and larger practices,” he says.

    The next step, according to Timothy Horton, Registrar of the NSW Architects Registration Board, will be to set up a series of targeted focus groups and surveys of both undergraduate and registered architects, so that a clearer picture of the profession’s baseline wellbeing can be realised.

    According to NSWARB the research will start by:

    1. Measuring the mental health and wellbeing of architects
    2. The quality and utility of communication networks across the profession
    3. Fairness in the workplace and gender equality and the impact on wellbeing
    4. Effective and efficient leadership strategies in architectural firms
    5. The impact of unstable employment and how architects respond to this
    6. Improvement in psychological quality of work and greater opportunities for creative enterprise

    You can download the review here.

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