Can we construct a ‘mental health conscious’ building?

While access to physical health care is high in cities, one’s mental health can suffer.

Madrid, Spain: home of singer-songwriter Enrique Iglesias, paella and La Lloreria, otherwise known as “The Crying Room”.

In 2021, La Lloreria was a project that aimed to remove stigma around mental issues in the country. It was a pink-hued warm room, an open space that anyone could weep into.

That same year I was working as a property manager in Vancouver. A colleague and I would often joke that our office needed a designated Crying Room because there weren’t enough papers floating around to wipe our tears with. If we knew about La Lloreria then, I would have booked us one-way flights. 

Could Canada adopt Spain’s idea of “The Crying Room” into our own real estate developments? If not literally, at least in any figurative sense? Is it possible to construct a “Mental Health Conscious” building?

Density (of the brain)

Living in a city can have its shares of pros and cons on mental health. While there is generally better access to health care and amenities, research also shows that the risk of mental illness is higher in cities than it is in rural areas. 

In April 2023, the City of Vancouver proposed an increase in density bonus rates in popular areas such as the Cambie Corridor, False Creek and Mount Pleasant. So if more people are moving here, then why is it still so impossible to make new friends as an adult? 

Developers seem to be attempting to answer this call by designing more inclusive community-oriented spaces such as rooftop communal gardens, lounges and commercial spaces for people to come together and connect. Will it be enough to save our mental health? I guess we’ll have to wait for the 2060 study on millennials and loneliness to find out.

Noise and the city

If I had a dime for every noise complaint I received from residents during my tenure as a Property Manager, I’d have like, $50. According to a podcast that I listened to recently (probably at too high of a volume), the average level of car noise in a city is the equivalent of having your TV on at high volume… all the time. But with all the city noise, municipal noise bylaws and soundproofing building processes, are we actually hearing each other? 

My husband and I recently moved to a condo in Port Moody. When we moved in, we complied with all strata bylaws and never did any unpacking before 9am or after 9pm. Still, we were greeted by a wonderful card from the neighbours below asking us to “kindly stop digging our heels in” and advised that “this is a nice community and if we wanted to be a part of that, we should be mindful of our noise”.  What a difference it could have made in welcoming us if we were greeted with compassion and understanding rather than assumptions and accusations. If they just knocked on our door, introduced themselves and talked to us, we would have actually listened. 

There have to be better places to cry than inside a portable toilet

A 2020 study once found that every year more construction workers die from suicide than every other workplace-related fatality, combined. That needs to change, now. We cannot continue to allow real estate development to be subsidized on the backs of the labourers that makes it all possible. As a predominantly male industry, construction is even more vulnerable to the antiquated ideas, thoughts and opinions on mental health care. 

It is every real estate development professional’s responsibility to help fight the stigma and increase the availability and accessibility of mental health resources for their teams. Our communities are counting on it.

So no, I can’t imagine we’ll be seeing “The Crying Room” as a featured amenity in a pre-sale marketing brochure anytime soon. But what I can imagine is a world where, little by little, brick by brick, the real estate development industry can tear down the walls of stigma and make it ok to not be okay. Mental health awareness can’t increase the cost per sq.ft. that much, can it? 


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