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Victoria Lane: It's good to talk

As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week, RTPI West Midlands Chair, Victoria Lane MRTPI shares her thoughts on mental health and wellbeing – and what it means in her role as Chair.

What do you think of when you think of Town Planning? Maybe it’s the challenges we face as a profession in securing the level of development we need to service our communities, or the level of resource needed to run a successful planning department? Maybe it’s the opportunities we can incorporate into new development? Or hopefully, it’s a careful combination and balance of the two.

For me it’s definitely a combination of the two. I see first-hand the struggles that resourcing is having on planning departments and the stress levels that we as planners now face, but on the other I see wonderful things happening across our region that show that we are bucking the trend and development is ongoing with pace.

The pandemic of 2020 hit us hard and four years on it’s clear that we live and work in a different way. Flexible working is now commonplace for most of us, but how does this work in practice with difficulties in resourcing new planners and still achieving the levels of development required to meet national targets? Admittedly, it’s great having this flexibility but I for one certainly prefer the atmosphere of being in the buzz of the office, learning by association and just generally having some human interaction - something which the pandemic took away from many of us. Stress and mental illness is no longer a taboo topic – as the old adage goes “It’s good to talk”.

Planners are undoubtedly under huge amounts of pressure of meeting deadlines within tight budgets and so it’s not uncommon that we are likely to suffer from either stress or mental illness at some point in our lives, but there are people out there to help and talk to, ensuring that it doesn’t become too much and will impact ultimately on our mental state of wellbeing.

I am not shy or one to hide the fact that I suffer from Bipolar Affective Disorder and Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. I’ve struggled a lot in the past when the stress of day-to-day life gets to me which has impacted on my work and resulted in periods of sick leave, but with the right support and changes to my medication, I’m able to function on a high level where it doesn’t impact me or my professional life. I know the trigger signs to look out for and when these occur I take active positive steps to ensure that I remain grounded and don’t let my mental health slip out of control. I take time out to meditate, go for a long walk and appreciate those things around me that I’m lucky to have in my life.

This is why, for this year, I wanted to focus on the impact the pandemic has had on our spaces and places and how we can really incorporate successful green and blue spaces into our developments to have a positive impact on not only our physical wellbeing - by being able to get out, about and active - but also on our mental wellbeing, by simply being in the great outdoors. I’ve chosen to dedicate this year’s Chair’s award to successful places and spaces that have achieved this aim or are looking to improve the quality of life for our residents and communities in the West Midlands.

We have many things to celebrate in the West Midlands and I’m sure you’ll all agree with me on that point. We aren’t perfect (who is?) but we have passion, dedication and a great community of planners who are there to support each and mentor each other, both personally and professionally. It’s ok to not be ok and it’s perfectly fine to reach out for support if you need it. We are doing a sterling job and we shouldn’t let the negativity or the political unknowns at present prevent us from seeing this. We need to remind ourselves every day that we are doing a profession we love, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. So go grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea or whatever it is you fancy and take a look at what the West Midlands region has been up to.

  • This article first featured in RTPI West Midland’s latest edition of Tripwire
  • RTPI members have access to free wellbeing support from Health Assured. Find out more by visiting our Mental Health and Wellbeing hub.
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