New academic research in Tokyo suggests that the Japanese may be better at preserving mental health through awareness of good public realm design and high standards in neighbourhood living.
Layla McCay, who is Director of the virtual Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health and a former pyschiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in London, has been studying how the Japanese live in Tokyo and noticed how residents line their streets with prolific numbers of pot plants as well as making efforts to keep their neighbourhoods free of traffic noise.
'Residents install nature everywhere and make sure it is easy to exercise in public city space by providing amenities such as lockers and showers', she observes.
However, she says even with these positive measures, there still needs to be an increase in awareness of mental health issues. Japan has traditionally experienced high levels of suicides.
'There is a tendency to overwork with a long hours culture which isn't good for positive mental health. A further look at the environment and exercise would help, as the Japanese could also improve their industrial waterways as places of recreation for out of work hours as well as stop businesses deterring people from cycling to work because of fears of insurance claims due to accidents'.
Layla noticed the benefits of living around nature when she worked at hospitals in London and in the UK countryside, describing how patients would comment on the benefit of greenery to their healing.
She says that the most pernicious aspect of living in dense urban environments is the overwhelming number of people that we cannot connect with personally which is a highly stressful day to day experience for many, as well as the exposure to inequality which affects self-esteem.
The Centre (UD/MH) www.urbandesignmentalhealth.com both curates and creates research and dialogue to inspire, motivate and empower policymakers and urban practitioners to build mental health into their projects for a healthier, happier urban future.