Can colour improve your mental health?

When it comes to colour, many advocate for filling your walls, and your entire life, with as many hues as possible. From clothing to art to the walls in your home, there’s always room to enhance your mood with even just a small pop of your favourite shade.

Colour theory is the concept that the colours a person is surrounded with can have an effect on the person’s health – physically or mentally. Different colours can have ranging effects, from blues and greens creating a calming atmosphere to oranges and yellows boosting productivity. In colour theory, every hue on the spectrum from white to black, has an effect on how a person thinks, acts, and responds to the world around them. 

Karen Clough's blue living room

Colour theory is the reason you’ll likely notice a pattern in terms of the colours used in hospitals and healthcare sites. White and green are typically used on wards thanks to their calming properties, while children’s wards tend to be bright and full of patterns to boost morale. Research suggests that these colours can improve patient healing and motivation, facility efficiency and healthcare staff motivation. 

London-based charity Hospital Rooms has made it part of its mission to bring colour to such places, with a focus specifically on mental health units. Hospital Rooms' founders Tim A Shaw and Niamh White recently collaborated with South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust to transform their Recovery College at Springfield University Hospital. The Recovery College was the first of its kind in the UK and leads courses for students who have experienced a range of issues including self-harm, personality disorders, depression, and other mental health issues.

Hospital Rooms introduced a colourful exterior and interior to the building in order to provide a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for the patients that would help to rehabilitate them. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the charity has since campaigned for more funds to help provide this vital service to an ever-growing waiting list of establishments wanting to get involved. 

The recovery college

When speaking to fellow colour enthusiast and interiors blogger, Karen Clough of Well I Guess This Is Growing Up, about how colour can affect lifestyle, Karen was quick to point out how she has used colour to improve her own mental health. “Colour on the walls massively influences my world,” she informed me.

“When diagnosed with bipolar 2 a few years ago, I quickly had to attune myself with environmental factors which drain my energy. I’d decorated in all manner of colours in our first renovation but found that I was avoiding some rooms, because of their aesthetic. The neutrals of natural hessian, and muddy tan were physically restricting how I started my day. Where others saw them as colours of warmth and welcoming, my brain was telling me it was desertion. Over time, I realised the rooms I felt happiest and safest in were the blue-hued beauties, and this has become my neutral [colour] of choice in our latest renovation. Some of us aren’t wired to find beauty in the everyday. We need to figure it out for ourselves and soak our world in it.”

Andrew Maynard, founder of award-winning architecture practice, Maynard Architects was also seriously affected by his surroundings and renovated his entire home thanks to a decline in his mental health. “My doctor suggested that a common contributing factor to his own increase in mental health patients during late-winter/early-spring was due to the lack of access to sunlight and vitamin D,” Maynard explained.

“While there were many, complex, reasons for my declining mental health, I could not argue that access to sunlight was a contributing factor.” After discovering some interesting data regarding the emotional effects colour has on human mind and from his own reactions towards yellow and the clear sunshine connotations, Maynard set about creating a home with plenty of natural light and vivid pops of sunshine yellow. Just one look at ‘The Mental Health House’, as it is aptly titled, fills me with joy. 

The mental health house

Home is clearly where the heart is. While colour out and about can have a positive or negative effect on your mindset, home should be the place where we feel at our most settled. Founder of Shoreditch-based homeware store W.A.Green, Zoe Anderson, recently created a colour report for her customers to show them how to use colour in their homes. Blue was cited as ‘the most popular worldwide colour, commonly associated with trust, loyalty and wisdom’ while pink was referred to as ‘representing compassion and love, historically used to represent wealth.’

For some, it’s not as easy as slapping some paint on the wall or spending money on house renovations. According to the latest English Housing Survey for 2017/2018, there are 8.5 million English households either privately rented or in the social rental sector. In a rental market where magnolia walls and brown carpets prevail, how can we inject some colour into our own homes?

Martha Roberts, colour columnist and author of Shelfie: Clutter clearing ideas for stylish shelf art, explains that “Colour psychology suggests that certain colours have a tendency to have make us feel a particular way. This can be really useful when you're deciding how you want a space to feel. Creating a shelfie in a particular colour way is a great quick fix to inject colour into a scheme without it being a major commitment like buying new furniture or painting walls. If you're looking to boost your mood and improve productivity, the colour you choose depends upon what type of work you are doing.”

Shelfie courtesy of Emma Jane Palin

So for a quick fix to improve your mental state, what colour should you choose for your own shelf art? “We all have colours that make us feel like the 'best version of ourselves' because of our own personal associations and life experiences” suggests Martha. “One person's 'feeling blue' blue is another person's 'positive sky blue thinking' blue.”

So, ask yourself this, what memories do you associate with specific colours? Does taupe make you feel calm and collected? Does it make you feel suffocated? Work out what works for you and take note of when something doesn’t. Surround yourself with the colours that evoke a positive mood and get rid of those that have the opposite effect. This could just be a fix that has numerous rewards for your wellbeing and allows you to live that life better. 

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