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With one in three students suffering, it’s time the RIBA and schools acted on mental health

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In just two years the number of architecture students reporting stress-related mental health problems has risen from one-in-four to one-in-three. Urgent action is needed, writes student Scott McAulay

Scottmcaulay

Two years ago, upon reading the results of 2016’s AJ Student Survey I winced, realising in that moment that I was not a one-off case; that I was a statistic. I was one of the – then – one-in-four architecture students who was currently receiving, or had received, treatment for mental health issues.

In the same year I welcomed the founding of the Architects Benevolent Society mental health support network, imagining it to be the beginning of sweeping cultural progress. Such was my hope for change I even overlooked the omission of students from their initial founding statement*; expecting we would be looked after as the movement influenced architectural practice and prompted change within the schools.

I was far too optimistic. It was naïve of me to expect admissions of struggling to no longer be perceived as a ‘weakness’ overnight.

Suffering in architecture is insidiously imprinted upon us as a ‘necessary evil’ from Year One; we are taught to both expect and endure it and, if we cannot, then we are told that perhaps architecture is not for us.

While technology in architecture has developed exponentially, and the expectations placed upon students have soared to reflect this; human limitations remain finite. Why should tutors refer to tutorials as ‘group therapy sessions’ as exams near, and why are tears to be expected?

Statistics like those the AJ published call for investigation and an appropriate response. One in four students was suffering and the ramifications were huge: the mental wellbeing of the future of architecture in the UK was at stake.

Upon reading the results of 2018’s AJ Student Survey I was both horrified and deeply troubled: I am now one of the one-in-three architecture students who are currently receiving, or have received, treatment for mental health issues. There is a new one-in-four – those who are worried that they will eventually require treatment.

I have seen peers mentally deteriorate; when did this become par for the course?

We have had two years’ forewarning of this growing problem within architectural education – two years to investigate and to question why architecture students are suffering in greater numbers year-on-year; two years to test proposals and begin to alleviate this damage being done to the next generation of architects. Where are the solutions? And, more importantly, why is this the case?

The headline accompanying 2018’s survey, ‘Only the rich need apply to study architecture’, emphasised the economic barriers arising within architectural education, and social media responses latched onto this. At the same time, architecture students are suffering mentally: both issues require attention as we go forward. The data demands a compassionate response.

During my studies, I have seen peers mentally deteriorate; mentally and physically burn out under accumulative pressures and require significant time to recover. When did this become par for the course? Why did we let it? And why continue to allow it to happen? Normalising this situation, as we currently do, is damaging. It is time we address these problems in our system; time to care and to respond.

My time in architecture school ends this year, and I refuse to do and say nothing: both the RIBA, and each individual school of architecture, shoulder and share a responsibility to act upon these statistics. The approach can no longer be reactive, and no longer can it be disjointed. We must collectively refuse to allow one-in-three to become one-in-two.

*Founded in 2016, the ABS began supporting students last year. For more details, please click here

Scott McAulay is a Glaswegian architectural assistant and masters student

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I remember in the 60s how awful the schools of architecture were and what a lottery it was if you got through , mostly as to whether they liked you or not rather than the work you produced. Things should have changed by now.

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  • Matt

    Things definitely haven't changed Henry.

    At the end of my part ii, one of my fourth year tutors even apologised and said that they were giving me a hard time for the whole of that year. It wasn't to do with the work, it was about the person. And I could see similar across the course at this particular West London university.

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