The effect of the visual environment on well-being

In recent years there has been a growing awareness of the decline in pupil’s mental health and well-being in our educational establishments and a need to address this in order to improve our children’s health and education achievement.


School’s nationwide have been putting into place many excellent initiatives to monitor and support vulnerable pupils and to ensure that all pupils are equipped to deal with the world they are growing up in for some time now.  Alongside these initiatives, the environment that pupils spend a large portion of their life in, their school building, is a great contributing factor to their mental health and well-being.


Research on the effects of the learning environments on pupil’s show that school buildings lay the foundations for pupils’ learning and for their experience in school. How well school buildings are designed and maintained, and the learning environments within them, have a strong impact on pupils’ and teachers’ wellbeing and happiness.


Research within the medical profession links the positive effect of the visual environment in particular on mental health. The WHO European Charter on Environment and Health, 1989, stated that “good health and well-being require a clean and harmonious environment in which physical, psychological, social and aesthetic factors are all given their due importance”.


In April 2008 The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health published a article titled: The impact of art, design and environment in mental healthcare: a systematic review of literature which stated that ‘environmental enhancements can have a positive impact on health and well-being of staff and patients in mental healthcare.”  If pleasing visual environments in hospitals can be of benefit to people’s mental health and wellbeing, one can assume that the aesthetics of a learning environment will also impact the mental health and well-being of staff and pupils positively.


Promoting Values and Raising Self Esteem 

The values, ethos, opportunities and ways in which schools support pupils are fundamental in addressing mental health and well-being. Having these communicated and brought to life regularly around the school in a visually way can act as a constant reminder for all pupils in terms of their actions, thus embedding it into the culture of your school. It can also make pupils feel cared about, safe and supported. Stokols, 1992 found that a pleasing environment can have a positive effect on self-esteem and give a sense of belonging. Jarman et al., 2004 state that the aesthetic features of a school can foster a strong sense of belonging that, in turn, can generate an enthusiasm for learning.


Calming Areas

Calming break out areas, both inside and outside, zoned by the visual background, can relax pupils both during scheduled breaks and at times where moments out of class are needed to address anxiety and behaviour needs. Philipp et al, 1999a found that environments with high aesthetic quality provide pleasurable places to be for contemplation, personal reflection, enjoyment, relaxation and replenishing the soul. They also help to encourage a healthy personal outlook.

Ensuring that the rooms where pupils go to for additional support, mentoring or counselling look warm, cosy, calm and inviting has an impact on their desire to use these spaces and see them as positive areas for them.

A welcoming entrance to the school makes the start of everyday a positive one for staff and pupils, but also, in those areas where visitors arrive it makes that first impression about the type of school you are.


Feeling safe and secure in your environment

As well as just making people feel happy, the aesthetics of the environment can have very practical applications for improving wellbeing. Simple things like making sure that way-finding is easy through using clearly labelled designs with colours and images to differentiate areas can have a massive impact. Pupils who need to feel safe and secure in where they are going, what is coming next and where they need to be will feel less unsure. For pupils with autism and or anxiety not knowing where they are, especially when they first start, can have a huge impact on their wellbeing.

The positive benefits of nature

The effect of nature and being outside is increasingly being recognised for its strong positive effect on mental health and well-being. Frederich (1999) wrote about the fact that “a disconnection from nature may contribute to some cases of ill health in today’s society.” Pupils by default have to spend large amount of their days confined to the indoors due to lessons being traditionally in classrooms and the weather being unhelpful in breaking out of this in the UK. By creating indoor areas depicting varied outdoor habitats on your school’s walls you can increase the positive benefits of exposure to the natural environment for your students, even when getting outside is restricted.

The aim of a school is to create strong, healthy, individuals who are able to learn and achieve so that they can reach their full potential socially, personally and academically, ready for their life ahead of them. The impact of school’s walls inside and out of the building on pupil’s mental health and well-being cannot be underestimated.  At Wall Art we strive to work with schools to support them in making visually appealing school environments that help them to achieve their mission.


If you would like to discuss how we can help you to improve your learning environment using Wall Art, please contact Lisa Savage on or 020 7404 3400.


Jarman, D., Webb, L. and Chan, T.C. (2004), “A beautiful school is a caring school”, School Business Affairs, available at: www.sba_june_04_beautiful_school.pdf/

Philipp, R., Pond, K., Rees, G., and Bartram, J. (1999a). The association of tourist health with aesthetic quality and environmental values. pp.195- 199. In: Mobility & Health: From Hominid Migration To Mass Tourism. Proceedings of European Conference on Travel Medicine, Venice, 25-27 March 1998. pub. WHO Collaborating Centre for Tourist Health and Travel Medicine, and Regione Veneto; 381pp.

Stokols, D. (1992). Establishing and maintaining healthy environments: Toward a social ecology of health promotion. American Psychologist, 47(1), 6-22.

Friedrich, M.J. (1999). The arts of healing. Journal of the American Medical Association; 281(19): 1779-1781.

Brill (1994, 1995) found that the physical environment can enhance productivity in the workplace.  Applied to a school environment one could argue that the physical environment of a school can increase productivity for teachers and impact on pupils’ attitude to learning.

Brill, M., Margulis, S., & Konar, E. (1984). Using office design to increase productivity, Vol. I. Buffalo, NY: Workplace Design and Productivity, Inc. Brill, M., Margulis, S., & Konar, E. (1985). Using office design to increase productivity, Vol. II. Buffalo, NY: Workplace Design and Productivity, Inc