Various scholars have studied and written extensively about the role of the built environment sector promoting or hindering mental health. They have noted that people are more likely to perform better if the environment they live in is mentally stimulating and has a sense of character, such as parks, museums, entertainment facilities, etc.
For example Kevin Lynch (1960) argued that a legibility provides an important sense of emotional security as well as an invitation to explore and promote less stressful interactions with the built environment.For example, well-maintained, safe and walkable places create a sense of connection. Our homes, the settings in which we grew up, and others create a sense of belonging. Whereas, crowded, and unsafe places have a variety of negative impacts on people and their psychological states, for example, stress, anxiety, depression, and violent behavior. The conditions of modern life place great demands on and often exhaust our ability to pay attention. So how do we expect the professionals in built environment to create livable spaces when they themselves require psychological support.

The month of October, but specifically 10 October, was declared by the World Health Organization as the World Mental Day. In the main, the overall objective of World Mental Health Day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health.This opinion piece is intended to shed light on an important matter that has been not received attention in our profession- the impact of mental health in the built environment, specifically among unemployed graduates and persons working in toxic environments.
It is no secret that mental health struggles have become a pressing issue globally and across various demographics. The United Nations estimates that persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities represent a significant proportion of the world’s population. Millions of people worldwide have mental health conditions, and an estimated one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

It’s further states that almost one million people die due to suicide every year, and it is the third leading cause of death among young people. Depression is the leading cause of years lost due to disability worldwide. Mental health problems, including alcohol abuse, are among the ten leading causes of disability in both developed and developing countries. In particular, depression is ranked third in the global burden of disease, and is projected to rank first in 2030.

The built environment professional is known for its demanding nature, characterized by high workloads, deadlines, and intense pressure to deliver outstanding results. This inherently stressful environment can lead to burnout, anxiety, and depression among professionals also working within it. Moreover, the recent surge in unemployment rates in South Africa, particularly among newly graduates in the built environment has exacerbated the mental health issues associated with our profession.It is no secret, unemployed graduates face a myriad of challenges as they try to navigate their entry into the job market.

There is pressure that is associated with concept of “Black Tax” – being the first in your generation to obtain a tertiary qualification and the expectations that comes with it not only from your family but your village or community in your township. If you struggle to get a job, one can easily became a talk of town where every one who hasn’t been able to study for whatever reasons they will in turn say ” kusazani ukuya enyuvesi ngoba naba noMsizi sibhuquza nabo la emakhaya”. This can be very disheartening and broadly it can also be a demotivating factor for other young people in the area who already lack having known role models. The uncertainty, financial strain, and constant rejection can take a toll on one’s mental well-being of these young graduates is put under the microscope and in some instance a sense of despair creep in and others end up being involved in criminal activities and lie to their parents that they work.

Obviously, parents will not be suspicious because they, too, are expecting that post university and the struggle they would have endured educating their child, now he or she is working. The time they realise what the child does, it might be too late and the damage has already been done.It is therefore important for tertiary institutions and bodies like the Council for the Built Environment together with its professional councils to develop support systems and resources to aid young graduates during their transitional phase – not slogans but tangible and practical programmes. Working with the private sector and government, CBE must lobby for job placement for newly graduates in the built environment to enable them to kick-start their career.

For example, a case of Lesedi a young built environment graduates who lived and studied in Pretoria and then get a job in Cape Town, which is a foreign environment in terms of culture, socialization, language and far away from home. She has to navigate the new environment on her own. There are no structures to support young professionals who have migrated to new cities and remote towns. There are built environment, young graduates chapter’s to help them settle down without parents, family, or friends. Let alone the sense of loneliness after work since she might be staying alone in her apartment. The last time she can speak to a person is when she left the office . The only option she has is to call or text someone whom she can share about pressures of a new work environment. This might also impact their productivity and the anxiety which in turn exacerbate the challenge of mental health.There must be dedicated career counseling services, and mental health support groups specifically tailored for unemployed graduates can help alleviate some of the anxiety and stress associated with unemployment.

Furthermore, even those that are newly employed, the fear of the unknown can be detrimental in their capacity, especially the demands as well being constantly reminded that there are other graduates who will grab this spot immediately should they be fired. In some instances , these fears creep in, especially when these young graduates are subjected to unethical conducts such as tender rigging and corruption. The aforementioned is also prevalent to professionals who are currently working in toxic environments and face unique mental health challenges.

Toxic work environments are characterized by negative interpersonal dynamics, lack of support, excessive workload, and poor management practices.The same pressure is placed on them on the basis that there is an army of unemployment graduates who are knocking on their gates daily seeking employment opportunities and that they now have financial commitments to their families and they cannot afford to loose their jobs. In return, they will do anything even at the detriment of their mental well-being and their ethical standards.

These factors contribute to increased stress levels, decreased job satisfaction, and a higher risk of mental health disorders. Recognizing and addressing these toxic environments is essential for maintaining the mental well-being and overall satisfaction of the workforce not just built environment professionals.

It is my submission therefore that, tertiary institutions, public and private sector bodies that employ built environment professionals, take proactive measures to address mental health issues. This includes implementing comprehensive mental health support programs, fostering a culture of open communication and support, providing training for managers on recognizing and mitigating workplace stressors, and establishing clear channels for reporting concerns without fear of retribution.It is also crucial to identify effective strategies for promoting mental health and wellbeing among graduates entering the workforce.

By working together, we can create an environment that supports mental well-being and allows individuals to thrive professionally while prioritizing their mental health.


Dr Msizi Myeza is a Professional Town Planner and the Chief Executive Officer of the Council for the Built Environment.