Enabling places

Have you ever experienced that terrifying, totally paralysing, sense of being trapped in a place that you could see absolutely no escape from?

This is how people with psychosis have described the experience of a city to me. Being simply too frightened to negotiate our urban streets – which amplifies anxiety and paranoia in people with mental health problems – is almost beyond rational understanding for most of us.

Sadly, for many suffering from debilitating and acute mental health problems, their psychological condition deteriorates further when incarcerated in demoralising and dysfunctional secure units – described as madhouses – with their place of living becoming a physical prison.

Our care of people with mental health problems is a national scandal. A recent U.K. independent inquiry says we are catastrophically failing.

Not only is this unethical – but it’s an economic issue. Mental health care costs the nation far more than cancer.

But spending more money on secure units is not the way forward.

Imagine for a moment a hushed kind of city – not dissimilar to the experience of arriving from the metro into the heart of Copenhagen – akin to a city after snowfall. A still and gentle soundscape, wide leafy streets, clear demarcation of the way ahead – free of street clutter, inviting cafes and friendly charity stores – places above all with a positive, welcoming mood. This is an Enabling Place that can – and should – be designed to nurture and enable recovery from mental illness.

A woman cycling along a  quiet street in Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark

The government says mental health is one of its highest priorities but – until it looks at “place based” solutions – nothing in mental health care will ever become clear.