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Posted on 12th May 2017

This week is Mental Health Week (8th-14th May) and there’s been a fantastic response from across the construction sector, where we’re finally discussing an issue that has had a significant impact on workers at all levels.

That conversation, along with the openness of public figures such as Prince Harry, Prince William and Lady Gaga, is beginning to open a healthy dialogue across all kinds of sectors; from offices, to healthcare and education, but what role can good building design play in supporting better mental health?

One of the key built environmental features that can have a huge impact on mental health and wellbeing is natural light. With glass infill panels to allow natural light to flood atriums, voids and staircases, balustrades can play an important role in helping natural light permeate a building and banish dark corners.

In the first instance, balustrades are there for security, to provide edge protection and to create a safe environment.  The natural light diffusion they enable also provides both aesthetic and wellbeing benefits.

According to Dr Victoria Revell from the University of Surrey, ‘Ensuring we receive adequate light levels at the appropriate time of day benefits our alertness, mood, productivity, sleep patterns and many aspects of our physiology’.

Indeed, research in the USA indicates that around 20 per cent of people are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can cause low mood, fatigue and in some cases, more serious depression, due to lack of natural light.

Using a balustrade system with glass infill panels allows the natural light from features like atriums to permeate the space uninterrupted.  This not only improves the mental wellbeing of the building’s occupiers and but also minimises reliance on artificial lighting, which can reduce melatonin levels in the body, which control our body clock. Low levels of melatonin can also affect sleep, which can have further negative effects on mental health and wellbeing.

Whether the installation is in a school, a workplace or a hospital, balustrades can help to maximise the natural light offered by rooflights, windows, curtain walling and atriums. It’s just part of the solution to supporting better mental health.