by Layla McCay, UD/MH Director
Colour therapy is a set of methods for using colours to help cure diseases. With a long history in the annals of complementary and alternative medicine, the 'colour cure' was a popular treatment for mental illness at the turn of the 20th century.
"Patients with acute mania were put in black rooms, patients with melancholia in red rooms; blue and green rooms for the boisterous, and a white room for the person who is practically well."
While there is little scientific evidence that the various colour-based therapies can cure any particular diseases, the psychology of colour has long been recognised as an important psychological factor in architecture and interior design: colours can evoke spontaneous emotional reactions that can affect mood and stress. This may in turn exert influence mental wellbeing, an effect that is particularly relevant to designers of the interior and exterior built environment.
The impact of colour on how we feel has been explored by architects and designers in all sorts of contexts, from increasing office productivity to improving wellbeing. The colour red is generally said to be associated with an increase in appetite, reduced depression and increased angry feelings, purple with boosting creativity and developing problem-solving skills, orange with optimism, blue with a sense of security and productivity, and green with a sense of harmony and effective decision-making. The potential effects extend beyond single colours: a monotonous colourscape may be associated with irritability and negative ruminations, while highly saturated, intense colour patterns may increase stress.
An interesting blog by Parkin Architects discusses the opportunities for colour to exert mental health impact in healthcare facility design, again pointing to certain colours that, in addition to helping eliminate the 'institutional look' of facilities, might exert specific impacts on mental health.
Rigorous scientific research on the specific impact of colours on mental health is in its infancy. TheFarthing boutique has developed a new infographic that reflects current ideas on the psychology behind the use of different colours to impact responses in various designed environments. Their sharing this infographic with us reminds us that harnessing the use of colour in urban design to promote good mental health is an interesting field that may have potential, warranting further scientific exploration.
About the Author
This post was written by Layla McCay, Director of the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, in response to a new infographic developed and shared by Toby Dean and Jessica Morgan of TheFarthing.
World Health Day was on Friday April 7th, and since the World Health Organization designated this year's theme 'depression: let's talk', we had an impromptu urban design and mental health social media flashmob so that architects, planners, citymakers and others could talk about our role in preventing depression. Using the hashtags #udmhflashmob and #designagainstdepression, people and organizations from around the world came together and shared interesting, important and fun ideas and experiences around leveraging urban design to help prevent depression.
Using hashtag analytics, #udmhflashmob reached 1 million people during World Health Day, the majority of whom were in the US, Australia, the UK and Japan, while #designagainstdepression reached 593,000 people - and counting. Did you miss it? Join in the fun: here's some of our posts.
You can keep up the fun with the #DesignAgainstDepression hashtag anytime. And keep a look out for the next #udmhflashmob - a fun way to raise awareness and share great design, research, policy, and initiatives.
Friday 7th April is World Health Day, and this year the World Health Organization has announced the theme, which is depression: let's talk. Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. More than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. People who live in cities have up to 39% increased risk of depression. This is important for architects, city planners, and other urban designers. So, in line with the World Health Day theme, #letstalk about #designagainstdepression.
What is depression?
Depression is an illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks. In addition, people with depression normally have several of the following symptoms: a loss of energy; a change in appetite; sleeping more or less; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
- World Health Organization
What does urban living have to do with depression?
The physical and social environments of urban life can contribute both positively and negatively to mental health and wellbeing. There are three main reasons that city life is associated with increased depression:
So how can urban design help reduce the risk of depression for people living in cities?
Learn more detail about these opportunities on our website.
ACTION: What can I do today?
Let's fill the internet with great design to reduce depression. For World Health Day, the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health is kicking off a #udmhflashmob - all day on April 7th:
While the whole world is talking about depression for World Health Day, let's make sure they think about the important and innovative roles that designers and other citymakers can play in preventing depression and promoting better mental health and wellbeing for the population.
#udmhflashmob This is Granary Square, Kings Cross in central London, UK. This public open space invites people to sit and relax with a book, eat their lunch, or meet and chat with friends. It incorporates natural and artificial elements, and is accessible by a biking and walking path along the canal, and by many forms of public transport. #greenspace #openspace #socialspace #activespace #worldhealthday
by Layla McCay, UD/MH Director
Cherry blossom season is upon us in Japan. The national news is filled with cherry blossom reports: it feels like everybody is invested in the specific day that the flowers will bloom in their town. There is good reason for this interest, and not just the national appreciation of beauty, flowers and the ephemeral nature of life. Cherry blossom behavior is part of Japan’s national psyche. In a unique moment of nationwide celebration, the country’s usual work-focused culture presses pause, and a different priority is embraced: cherry blossoms viewing, known as hanami. People walk amongst cherry blossoms, admire them, photograph them… Admiring cherry blossoms is part of the pulse of Japan.
As the flowers fleetingly blossom, so too does another fleeting pleasure: leisurely outdoor social interaction. Everyone dashes to their nearest cherry blossom location to enjoy raucous, convivial, drunken hanami parties, crowded on blue tarpaulin sheets spread under the trees. Offices, universities, friends, and just about anyone else organises hanami parties, characterised by picnicking (with copious alcohol usually involved). Office workers are even sent to the park early in the morning to secure a good spot.
Hanami picnics in Yoyogi Park. Photo by Stardog Champion. Used Under Creative Commons license.
But as the blossoms start to fade, so too does this particular form of social interaction. At the end of cherry blossom season, Japanese people pack up their picnic blankets and store them til next spring. This seems a missed opportunity: many people live in very small homes, particularly those in large cities like Tokyo, which inhibits their inviting others to their homes for socialising. Picnics should be an ideal solution. And yet they are not. Part of the reason may be lack of venue. Tokyo has only 5.4 m2 of green space per person; this compares to 11.8m2 in Paris, 26.9m2 in London and 29.1 m2 in New York. While picnicking takes over many public spaces during hanami season, for the rest of the time this is not appropriate, and many parks are designed to be admired, not as appropriate social dining spots for adults. But finding the right venue is not the only hurdle. Picnics do not tend to be part of Japanese culture. According to many Japanese people, picnicking outside at any non-hanami time of the year is generally considered 'bizarre', 'childish', and even 'suspicious'.
Hiroshi Ota, an architect, and Kaori Ito, an urban designer, helped establish the Tokyo Picnic Club in 2002. Its mission: to tempt Tokyoites to picnic outside of hanami season, socialising in natural settings year-round. They claim: ‘to picnic is the urban culture to utilize the public spaces, to make up for the deficiencies of our city life.’ The appreciation of parks is a cultural norm, but the idea of picnics is unusual. Yet they offer many benefits, not least the opportunity to promote good mental health in the city. Picnicking offers exposure to natural green spaces, encourages physical activity (at least walking to the picnic spot), and facilitates pro-social interaction, which are all urban factors associated with good mental health.
TRY A PICNIC TALK / Illustration: Kotori NOGUCHI, Design: Wataru Noritake
The connections between picnics in the park and good mental health tends to be underappreciated. “Japanese people don’t feel the direct connection between spending time in nature and health,” Ota explains. “However, if parks are used for community activities, that can lead to improved mental health.”
The Tokyo Picnic Club helps people make that all-important but unappreciated connection between urban design and mental health by linking picnics to more commonly accepted health promotion ideas. “In Japan, people tend to think about food when it comes to health. Since the idea of the picnic is based on food, this helps with the idea that going to the park for a picnic can help enhance health.” Ito adds that in Japan, expressing creativity is another important facet of mental health, and this can be achieved by preparing elaborate picnics. “When Japanese people enjoy creativity, they tend to feel happy. Therefore, we believe that writing a poem, making food, and wearing creative costumes during the picnic may also make people feel happy.”
There are further benefits to socialising in the park, Ito proposes: “If you go to a shopping centre, you will notice the lack of diversity. However, parks are open for anyone. You can see all the generations, including rich, poor, elderly and young people.”
Tokyo Picnic Club picnicking outside in Konan-ryokusei Park, Tokyo. Photo and copyright: Hajime Ishikawa
But their enthusiasm for picnics is not shared by everyone. The Tokyo Picnic Club described setting up picnics in various patches of green space around Tokyo – and measuring how long it took before their party caught the attention of the police and were reprimanded for their subversive attitude to picnicking outside the social boundaries of hanami season. It rarely takes long before they are questioned - and often asked to move on.
“We just want the places to have our picnic. We need neither benches nor waterworks. We simply want a spacious lawn. If Green Fields such as beautiful parks are open to us, the picnic becomes the art of encounter in our urban lifestyles. If Brown Fields such as ex-industrial sites or abandoned harbors are open to our picnic, we can develop meals, tools, manners and conversations to fit in the new atmosphere of the modern cityscape.”
The Tokyo Picnic Club hopes that by raising awareness, the value of year-round picnicking will be better understood and appreciated in Japan. Their efforts have included portable lawns, and Grass on Vacation, an art show where they remove aeroplane-shaped pieces of turf from locations where people do not sit on the grass, and take them on ‘vacation’ to other locations where the grass can 'enjoy' its intended use: people are encouraged to sit, lie, socialise, eat and generally enjoy the experience of nature in the city.
Grass On Vacation ANGYANG (2005)
Design: Hiroshi OTA + Kaori ITO + Toru KASHIHARA + Wataru KASHIHARA, Illustration: Kenji KITAMURA
The Tokyo Picnic Club smilingly insist that the "Right to Picnic" should be a basic human right for urban dwellers. Given the normality of picnicking in other cities all over the world, in Tokyo, this is a surprisingly subversive demand.
In time, the Picnic Club hope for proper observation of one of the 15 rules of Tokyo Picnic Club: every day is a picnic day. By encouraging people’s access to green space and positive, natural social interaction, this is also an apt mantra for mental health promotion in the city.
Illustration: Kotori NOGUCHI
About the Author
Sanity and Urbanity: