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Why wellness in Singapore’s communal living is important

By Lim Keong Wee

Co-living spaces can potentially take on an active role in promoting mental wellness.

Co-living has become a popular choice for young adults, offering an affordable and accessible housing option. Successful cohousing examples such as Vinderhoute Cohousing Project, Belgium and Svanholm, Denmark, where residents share communal facilities, have been shown to decrease isolation, particularly in seniors, and enhance the quality of life and mental health of residents.

They foster mutual support and create a sense of community, crucial in a high-density living environment like Singapore. However, co-living environments also present challenges, such as the risk of isolation leading to depression.

To mitigate this, shared spaces need to be designed, planned and programmed to encourage social connections, networking, and learning, aiding in building lasting friendships.

Why are people so stressed out?

In Singapore's highly dense urban environment, several factors contribute to increased stress levels among residents.

The limited availability of land and the resultant space constraints have led to smaller living areas compared to previous decades.

This, coupled with a lack of natural hinterlands, intensifies the feeling of being cramped and
contributes to daily stress.

The digital era has ushered in a fast-paced and competitive work culture, exacerbated by the rise of the internet and digital technologies.

This environment often leads to extended working hours, blurring the lines between professional and personal life, especially with the increasing adoption of hybrid work models.

Additionally, Singapore's high cost of living, as evidenced by its ranking as the most expensive city in the world in the Economist Intelligence Unit Worldwide Cost of Living Survey released on 30 November, places further strain on residents, particularly those in middle and lower income brackets.

A study by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) during the pandemic revealed concerning levels of mental health issues among the Singapore population, with significant percentages suffering from clinical depression, anxiety, and stress.

These findings suggest the need for ongoing research, especially in the post-pandemic era, where new challenges such as rising healthcare costs add to the existing pressures.

Design for wellness has to start early

Addressing these issues requires early intervention in designing environments conducive to mental wellness. This involves a holistic approach to spatial design, including the incorporation of biophilic elements, quiet spaces, and communal areas to enhance mental health.

The National Mental Health and Well-being Strategy of Singapore emphasizes the importance of a stigma-free environment, facilitating easy access to mental health services and support.

Innovative design approaches, such as salutogenic designs, which are used in healthcare settings to improve patient recovery, can be adapted for co-living spaces.

These designs aim to reduce stress and foster community interaction, which is essential for mental health.

Technology also plays a significant role in enhancing accessibility to mental wellness resources. Digital platforms and apps focusing on mental wellness, like Safe Space that offers live online support, are becoming increasingly popular.

Collaboration with mental health experts in co-living spaces is critical for implementing effective mental wellness programs, normalising discussions about well-being, and providing early detection and support for those in need.

Community engagement and continuous feedback are vital in shaping relevant mental wellness initiatives and ensuring their effectiveness.

Programs like the Mind Science Centre’s Age Well Everyday, which supports community aging well, are examples of such initiatives.

Wellness Is A Way of Life

In the context of modern living environments, the emphasis on mental wellness and the implementation of wellness programs have become increasingly important.

Recognizing that individuals spend a significant portion of their day at work, often more than a third, the integration of wellness strategies in both work and living spaces is essential.

One prominent approach to enhancing wellness in workspaces is the use of biophilic design. This design philosophy incorporates elements of nature, such as greenery, into the built environment.

Wellness initiatives should not be an exceptional practice but rather a standard aspect of culture. This approach extends beyond traditional office spaces to include co-living and co-working environments, reflecting the changing societal norms and the increasing prevalence of such spaces.

In line with this, the Singapore Land Authority has announced plans to allocate more state properties for co-living purposes. These co-living spaces, distinct from conventional residential models, require unique integration strategies.

They need to be developed as independent communities, quite different from the typical networks which come under the People’s Association umbrella. This shift calls for a thoughtful approach to ensure that these spaces effectively support the
well-being of their residents.

The Singapore government, through its National Mental Health and Well-being Strategy, has laid out a vision for the future where mental wellness is a fundamental component of the overall well-being of its citizens.

This strategy outlines the need for a comprehensive and integrative approach to mental health, considering the various facets of daily life, from work to living environments.

The successful execution and integration of these wellness strategies are crucial. The goal is to foster a society where mental well-being is regarded as vital as other basic needs, ensuring a holistic approach to health that encompasses both physical and mental aspects. This vision advocates for a paradigm shift in how mental wellness is perceived and addressed
within the societal fabric of Singapore.

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