Happy National Mental Health Awareness Month! It is important that employees feel physically and mentally safe in the places where they spend a majority of their time. Here’s a look at how we can provide better work environments by embedding mental health support into organizations: #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth #WeAreWELL #WELLWednesdays

The WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) MIND optimizes cognitive and emotional health through design, technology and treatment strategies.

WELL STANDARD | MIND

BACKGROUND

While mental and physical health are often conceptualized as separate domains, our minds and bodies are inextricably connected. For instance, exercise increases the release of serotonin, which can elevate mood and regulate the sleep cycle. The simple act of worrying, on the other hand, can trigger physiological responses similar to the way physical stress and injury can. While the body has a remarkable capacity for recovering from a single acute stressor, chronic, repeated activation of the stress response can be especially damaging both physiologically and psychologically. Because humans have the capacity to worry about abstract and often non-immediately resolvable problems such as loss, career, finance issues and self-esteem, modern life can be wrought with stressors that lead to low mood, depression and a negative sense of self.

The global burden of mental health illnesses is significant. In 2010, mental illnesses and substance use disorders accounted for nearly 184 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), 8.6 million years of life lost to premature mortality (YLL) and over 175 million years lived with disability (YLD) worldwide. Furthermore, it is estimated that the life expectancy among those with mental illness is more than 10 years shorter compared to those without mental illnesses, and that more than 14%, or 8 million deaths each year are attributable to mental disorders.

The lifetime prevalence of mood disorders in the U.S. (classified as the presence of a major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder or bipolar disorder) is estimated at nearly 21%. Major depression is one of the most common of all mood disorders, affecting about 16 million adults in the U.S. Mood disorders are inevitably linked to physical illness and are associated with a range of detrimental health outcomes. Chronic low level disturbances or mental distress play increasingly important roles in some of the most common chronic diseases. For example, depression is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and immunosuppression. Chronic stress and anxiety are also directly responsible for stress hormones associated with a variety of negative physiological outcomes, including increased risk of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders and skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis.

Because the mind plays a vital role in an individual’s overall health and well-being, an atmosphere that supports a healthy mental state can have significant psychological and physical benefits. Interventions to mediate stress can either be direct or indirect. This includes providing access to therapies that help promote relaxation and address mental or emotional trauma, instituting policies that improve sleep hygiene or encourage altruism and community engagement, and promoting the use of sensor technologies that increase awareness of physiological and environmental factors to inform positive behavioral changes.

The WELL Building Standard® recognizes the features of the built environment and identifies workplace policies that can be implemented to positively impact mood, sleep, stress levels and psychosocial status in order to promote and enable overall occupant health and well-being.

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CITATIONS

1. World Health Organization. World Mental Health Day 2017: http://www.who.int/mental_health/world-mental-health-day/2017/en/

2. World Health Organization. Depression: http://who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/. Accessed May 25, 2016.

3. Jonathan Gardner, Steve Nyce. Workers Still Uneasy About Financial Security and Retirement: Results from Towers Watson’s 2013/2014 Global Benefit Attitudes Survey. Towers Watson; 2014.

4. Gallup. State of the American Workplace – Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders. 2013.

5. UK Department for Work and Pensions. Health and Well-being at Work: A Survey of Employees 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-and-wellbeing-at-work-…

6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mental Health Basics, 2013. Accessed May 20, 2016.

7. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Mental Health – Psychosocial Risk Factors in the Workplace. 2012: https://ccohs.ca.  Accessed December 1, 2016.

8. Mental Health Foundation. Doing good does you good:https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/doing-good-does-you-good