top of page
  • Sara

The Need for Safe Spaces to Support Mental Health

The concept of developing safe spaces has become more and more popular in the recent years, especially as the stigma surrounding mental health is finally lifting. Schools are implementing safe spaces for students, universities are following suit, and even some workplaces are as well. Skeptics may not believe in the creation of safe spaces and claim that we are just coddling people and producing a false sense of security. But the need for safety is a basic humanistic must-have, according to science, and it’s a need that develops even before birth when an unborn child feels safe in its mother’s womb. So, it can be argued that this inherent need for safety means we need spaces that make people feel comfortable. Even if these spaces are flawed, the sense of security they provide is, nevertheless, essential.

Safe spaces are extremely beneficial for an individual’s mental health overall. With all of the tension and stress that we experience in our lives, it is vital that we create places for people to decompress. This doesn’t just have to be related to school or workplace security threats. It can mean having a room at home dedicated to self-care and/or relaxation. It might be one’s bedroom or living room, for example, where they feel like they can take a load off after a long day and engage in pleasurable activities rather than work. Safe spaces can literally be established anywhere so long as a person feels the spot they’ve picked fulfills this basic biological need.

The concept of creating a safe space is an essential part of therapy and building rapport in the therapeutic relationship. A feeling of safety has to be, of course, a the front and center of this relationship when opening up about the most intimate things in a person’s life. If this basic need isn’t met, it’s impossible to be in a mindset to talk about these life’s issues. And the same feeling can be achieved at home – a person’s home, in general, can act like a sanctuary for self-expression.

When this sense of safety is violated, it can create distrust that can follow a person for a long time thereafter. This is especially true of children and adolescents who have no choice but to stay in the environment in which they’re being raised and be subjected to the modeling of the adults in their home. If a sense of safety is present, these individuals tend to be successful later in life. However, if it isn’t, feelings of deep-seated anxiety and depression can be planted and follow throughout the lifetime. The longer one feels unsafe, the worse these conditions can get.

Let’s start by defining safe spaces and their purpose at this level. The conceptualization of safe spaces was built around providing areas of respect and emotional security. Long ago, it was recognized that people developed anxiety when they felt unsafe, and chronic anxiety can take an enormous toll on our mental and physical health. Having one’s guard up at all times is very emotionally taxing. Our nervous systems are plunged into overdrive, and we experience actual physical symptoms as a result. Increased anxiety may also cause people to isolate themselves and avoid their emotions altogether, which then leads to exacerbated symptoms.

When we provide spaces that allow for a break in judgment and unwanted opinions, our nervous systems are able to relax. It is almost like our brain can take a deep breath. It is not sustainable to be constantly worrying about what others think of us and to feel like we need to keep our emotions and identities hidden. Safe spaces provide the much-needed break from constant societal critiques. They are also a leading way to tackle difficult discussions and controversial topics, leading to a more collaborative environment. Also, our productivity increases when we feel safe, and our mental clarity sharpens.

If you can’t immediately think of a place that you would consider to be your safe space, try asking yourself these questions to help you identify one that you may already use without realizing it. The need for safety is a basic need, so you are likely already utilizing a place that makes you feel at ease:

Where do I go when I’m upset and need a place where I can be alone for a bit?

Where do I like to spend most of my time?

Is there a place that comes to mind which holds special meaning for me?

Where do I feel most alive?

There are truly no downsides to having a safe space, and it is something that we can retreat to when we need some time to ourselves. It can also be a space we share with others sometimes. We can create figurative safe spaces as well as literal ones – both of which can be equally as warm and welcoming. Safe spaces can be figuratively created in meetings, on phone calls, and through any other form of communication to let people know that we are here to respect one another. They can also be pre-identified areas that we physically go to decompress. Whatever a “safe space” means to you, the very thought of it likely produces feelings of peace, and that’s enough to know that you need one!


bottom of page