Learning Spaces

How School Spaces Can Boost Mental Health

When the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered school districts across the country, it severed millions of students from extracurricular activities, friends and school staff who often provide compassion and support through challenging moments of adolescence. And it left students of all ages in a mental health crisis.

Twenty percent of students say their mental health has “significantly worsened” due to the pandemic, according to a 2020 survey by the non-profit Active Minds. And both children and college students report feeling more anxious, depressed, fatigued and distressed.

To address students' needs post-pandemic, many school districts are using federal relief funds to prioritize mental health. To do this, schools are emphasizing social-emotional learning, hiring on-site counselors, and ensuring access to school-based mental health programs.

But alongside these basic measures, it’s worth considering how physical spaces like classrooms, common areas and even cafeterias can be outfitted to improve students’ mental outlook. Research has shown that many interior (and exterior) design approaches can reduce stress and depression. Even basic changes to a room’s design – like using cool-toned colors or furnishings that promote collaboration – can make a big difference to a student’s well-being.

Schools can improve students’ mental outlook by designing spaces that:

  • Give access to refuge and personal space
  • Give access to light and nature
  • Promote social interaction
  • Allow access to caring adults
  • Allow students to explore self-efficacy

For example – schools can offer students refuge from anxious or stressful situations by outfitting private breakout spaces or tranquility rooms. Designed to help students de-escalate, these quiet spaces often feature cozy soft seating, cool-toned colors and access to calming devices like fidget toys, coloring books and stress balls.

And schools can encourage social interaction critical to mental and physical well-being by furnishing common areas with collaborative tables and a variety of flexible seating. Socializing can fend off feelings of loneliness and depression while increasing cognitive skills and memory, studies show.

For even more ideas on how your school can design spaces that boost students’ mental outlook, check out 5 Practical Ways Schools Can Promote Mental Health. We break down how environments like cafeterias, makerspaces, art rooms and more can be designed into spaces where students feel comfortable, safe and empowered to learn.

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