Mental health has emerged as a critical issue impacting architects, a leading regulatory body in the design sector says.

In order to find out more about the likely prevalence and nature of mental health issues in architecture and some of the ways in which both individual firms and the profession as a whole can provide more effect support to those in need of help, the NSW Architects Registration Board says it conducted a review literature and interviews with two professionals from within the mental health profession.

The board says it occasionally receives applications with regard to exemptions for the continuing professional development requirements of architecture registration due to prolonged health issues which sometimes assumed the form of mental illness.

During the research, the Board says a number of themes arose.

A 2013 study by the University of Toronto in Canada, for instance, suggested that a number of unhealthy aspects of architect’s organisational culture, such as ‘all-nighters’ can be learned at university.

Closer to home, a Melbourne University study found that problems such as anxiety and depression may be linked to long working hours, and that this may then flow through onto other challenges such as poor decision making, difficulty in identifying priorities and poor negotiating abilities.

Some notions, however, had turned out to be myths. The idea of a ‘creative streak’ being positively linked to mental health issues had been touted in a number of studies but remained unsupported by evidence, according to a worldwide review of global literature conducted by Canadian psychiatrist Charlotte Waddell.

At a practical level, the experts – adjunct professor John Mendoza, former chair of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health (who himself has three architects in the family), and associate professor Lee Stickells, Head of Architecture at the University of Sydney – suggest that a number of factors can contribute to being mentally unhealthy.

These include alcohol or narcotic addition, a lack of friends or support or a particular crisis at an individual level and poor relationships, perceptions of career decline, bad leadership and organisational culture, long working hours, insecure employment and a lack of creativity at the team based level.

By contrast, at a personal level, the review found that attributes which improve well-being include an active mind, a sense of control over one’s life, commitment and drive, overlearned skills (learning skills beyond the point of initial proficiency, aesthetic sensitivity, an ability to ‘sell well’ and an ability to designate proficiency.

Furthermore, the Board says the review prompts interesting questions.

“For example, should sole practitioners be encouraged out of their front rooms and off their dining room tables, and into co-working spaces where support and services are more easily found?,” it said. “Can more research and promotion of what makes a healthy studio environment, or team, help to build more replicable models in architectural practices? Should we measure the mental health and wellbeing of the profession so that we have industry data that can be tracked over time?”

The Board says additional questions revolve around who is best placed to do this and about the role of the board and the Australian Institute of Architects in making initiatives such as this happen.