Book Launch: Layla McCay

Layla McCay (MSc Health Policy, Planning and Financing, 2011) is the Director of the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, and Policy Director of the NHS Confederation. She has recently published the book: Restorative Cities: Urban Design for Mental Health and Wellbeing with Jenny Roe. In this blog post, she shares her achievements since graduating, the inspiration behind the book and hopes for the future.
Layla McCay

What course and year did you study at LSHTM?

I did my Masters at LSHTM part-time whilst working as a Psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital and then being an Assistant Medical Director of Bupa. I especially remember running vigorously between Bupa’s Holborn offices and LSHTM, so I didn’t miss any meetings or classes. It was a very hectic time but proof that it is possible to do a Masters at the same time as working, which gave me such a rich experience. It made me really value the opportunity to be in class, though the essays did nothing for my weekends! I was then subsequently a tutor on the Global Health programme.

Please summarise your achievements since graduating.

After graduating and publishing my thesis as part of a global mental health paper in The Lancet, I moved to Washington DC, where I worked in global public health, first as the Head of Policy at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and then Director at the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing. I also conducted health system analysis at the World Bank, contributing to health system reform in several countries, and published on health system issues as a Visiting Scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. I then became Adjunct Professor of International Health at Georgetown University, where I developed and taught a Global Mental Health programme; my students went on to study this topic at LSHTM.

At this point, I launched a new virtual think tank, the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health (UD/MH), and spent the next several years developing this emerging field, first in Washington DC, then at Tokyo Medical and Dental University and Asia Global Institute in Hong Kong University. This included launching and editing the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health. On returning to London, I continued to run UD/MH and became the Director of International Relations at the NHS Confederation, running the NHS European Office in Brussels and representing NHS interests in Brexit. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, I expanded my role at the NHS Confederation to take up responsibility for the COVID-19 task force and then became Director of Policy.

Please tell us about your book and the inspiration behind it.

Restorative Cities: Urban Design for Mental Health and Wellbeing is about how to plan and design cities in ways that promote and support public mental health and wellbeing. It is the culmination of more than five years growing this emerging field of public health, working with city leaders, architects, planners, geographers, health professionals, and academics to answer the simple question that kicked off my founding of The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health: how do you design cities for mental health?

People have been clamouring for a book like this for years. I believe the field is now sufficiently developed to allow us to move beyond anecdote to rigorously analyse the body of research to explain how and why certain features and approaches within the urban environment can exert and impact mental health and mental illness. The book includes practical descriptions of how these can and should be leveraged for public health. This makes the book helpful for city officials, academics, public health professionals and built environment practitioners alike. It also has lots of lovely photographs and diagrams to illustrate its points and an extravagant and helpful reference section.  This book is at the cutting edge of a cutting-edge field, and I really hope you find it useful.

How can alumni find your book?

The book can be purchased directly from the publisher, Bloomsbury, and you can use the special code RESCITIES35 to get a 35% discount on the price. It can also be bought or ordered at any bookshop. 

How has COVID-19 affected your work?

Restorative Cities comes at a very timely moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s interactions with places, from lockdowns and use of outside space to trying to social distance on narrow pavements. The pandemic has really drawn attention to the links between where we live and our physical, mental and social health. Interest is growing exponentially in seizing these opportunities. This book tells you how.

What do you hope to further achieve field in the future?

I look forward to continuing to grow the field of urban design for mental health, including enabling learning from approaches taken by cities around the world via UD/MH’s city case study series. I also hope to advance my health system strengthening role, and I am excited about future opportunities. 

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