In the run up to Mental Health Awareness week, which starts on 10 May, we’re publishing our recent Frame Lab on the subject, from issue 139. Over the following four days we’ll be posting a series of articles unpacking how the design of a new generation of products, spaces and digital portals is helping us manage stress and anxiety and improve wellbeing.

Over the past five years, the number of Google searches for mental wellbeing’ has steadily climbed. Unsurprisingly, there are two distinct peaks in the upward trend: one in May 2020, following the first period of strict lockdowns in much of the world, and the second, in September, as the start of the second wave hit. Forced isolation gave some individuals the space and time to reflect on self-improvement, on how to make positive changes for the future. For others, it was precisely the lack of those things – space and time – that necessitated urgent emotional support. And lets not forget those dealing with the stress of losing a job, or the grief of unexpectedly losing a loved one.

Thankfully, the topic of mental wellbeing has become less taboo, and various outlets are opening up to fill the need. Apps like Headspace are bringing meditation into the mainstream – so mainstream, in fact, that Netflix has just released the animated series Headspace Guide to Meditation. This and other mental-wellness-oriented apps make up just a small part of a $120.8 billion industry, found the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) in its major report for 2020 – ‘the first study to define mental wellness as opposed to mental health. Ophelia Yeung, GWI senior research fellow, writes: Stress, loneliness and burnout were exploding pre-pandemic, and a stronger focus on mental wellness has been a cultural mega-shift these last few years: People awakening to the importance of integrative solutions including meditation, sleep and brain health, with businesses rushing in to offer all kinds of solutions. But mental wellness as a concept, and what constitutes it as an industry, has remained incredibly fuzzy. Clarifying what it is, and delineating its business segments, is overdue. And while most mental wellness strategies are free – spending time in nature or with friends – people increasingly seek non-clinical help in coping with everyday mental challenges, and thats where the mental wellness industry comes in.’ 

And now, these solutions and strategies are becoming more important than ever. Newspapers wrote of COVID-19 as the greatest threat to mental health since second world war’ (The Guardian) and of its negative psychological impacts as the hidden fourth wave” of the pandemic’ (The New York Times). In summary, the effects could linger well after weve moved beyond lockdowns.

Rather than taking a long retreat – for which not many have the means or time – wellness seekers now have a wider range of options at their disposal, for any given moment of the day. And, as is expected in other industries such as events, the future model will likely be a hybrid of physical and digital, offering the best of both worlds.

Look out for a new article on the relationship between design and mental wellbeing every day this week. Get a print copy of Frame 139 here.

Cover image: Designed by Mur Mur Lab, The first brick-and-mortar location for online psychological consultation platform KnowYourself in Shanghai was conceived as a 'city cave’. Photo: WDI and Hanzhi