Our rising self-care trend: a bandaid fix on a bullet wound problem?
A discussion on UK mental health services, and the help and support that people are still struggling to find.
A quick google search of ‘mental health’ will produce about 821,000,000 results in less than a second, and it’ll provide you with an array of information - ranging from the websites of popular charities and organisations to the latest news articles about how “Mental health patients missing GP appointments [are] ‘at risk’”. But how is it, that in this mass technological era, where we seem to be more open to mental health discussions than ever, that things appear to be growing worse? We are surrounded by a never-ending stream of articles detailing how "a new podcast series aims to untangle mental health in music"; and are bombarded by the promotion of 8, 17, 19 items, which online magazines such as EliteDaily, ThoughtJournal, or Bustle, claim are "designed to make you feel worthwhile and healthy", promising you that they will "cater to your optimal well-being in one way or another". But are items like magic dust, journals, and oil diffusers really the key to solving our problem - or are they just a short-term fix and long-term exploit of individuals who need (or would benefit more from) medical or therapeutic attention?
Mental health in the UK
Current mental health statistics show that the number of people experiencing mental illness in the UK is 16 million. Broken down, this means that one in four people experience a mental health problem every year. Moreover, mental health problems account for 23% of the burden of disease in the UK, but spending on mental health services consumes only 11% of the NHS budget. While the government did promise in 2015 that £1.25 billion of new funding would become available for children’s mental health services by 2020, this alone is not enough to solve the ever-burgeoning problem. According to King’s Fund, “sufficient funding will need to be available to help local areas develop new approaches to mental health, ensuring that services are better connected with physical health care and other public services”, equally “workforce shortages” will need to be resolved, and “investment in training and education” for “GPs, nurses and other staff” in the NHS in “the skills to help people with mental health problems to enjoy the same care and outcomes as anyone else” is required. These are long-term changes which need to take place; therefore it is understandable that while people wait, they will turn to other methods to try and help themselves. Currently, this is the very instagrammable term of #selfcare.
(Source: Leahlani Skincare)
Simply put, self-care is the ill-defined concept or list of behaviours which simply mean one thing - looking after yourself. With the requirement of taking care of our mental state resting firmly on our shoulders while the government attempts to offer better solutions, it is no wonder that companies and social media have chosen to exploit this and fill this newly created “gap in the market”. It is also no surprise that we have fallen for it. As Shayla Love details in her Vice column, self-care is “no longer just meditation and journaling; everything can now be #selfcare. Eating healthfully or indulgently; spending time alone or seeing friends; working out or taking a rest day; getting a manicure or forgoing beauty routines”. People are desperate for a solution to the problems that they’re facing, and so they try to cling onto any self-indulgent aspect of their daily lives, hoping that if they nurture it that they will then be ‘cured’. But sometimes life is not as simple as having a bubble bath to help your anxiety, journaling about your day for a year to solve your PTSD, or starting yoga to ward off your depression. Sometimes life is messy and we need external help, and this is evident through the 1.5 million extra posts that have appeared in the #selfcare section of Instagram since Love first posted her article. Though the article in question is lengthy and only focuses on US mental health issues, it does contain a number of important arguments and offers some insightful views. “If we lived in a world in which we were being properly taken care of, would self-care have the same appeal? Is self-care a symbol of a generation that wants to take care of itself, or does it reveal how our society has failed to take care of us?” she asks.
The truth is, it all depends.
10% of children and young people (aged 5-16) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem in the UK, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. Furthermore, 75% of young people with a mental health problem are not receiving treatment, yet less than 30% of mental health research is focused on young people, with only £26 million being allocated annually for studies surrounding the topic. Thus these statistics fall in line with Paul Gionfriddo’s (the CEO of Mental Health America) statement that “we have a help-seeking, undiagnosed, largely young population” - showing that this is a worldwide problem.
Love’s article explains that while “self-care is fine for people who are experiencing some degree of mild stress, or simply looking to it as a way of improving their satisfaction with life” it is different “for people who are actually experiencing symptoms of a mental disorder for which effective treatments are available, to ask, to expect, or encourage them to take care of themselves in that circumstance is to shift the burden of the condition from the system that should be addressing it to the individual. Frankly, if they could take care of themselves in the first place at that level, they wouldn’t have the problems that they do. For many people, getting help from someone is essential to recovery.” Our governments, therefore, need to do more while long-term legislation is being implemented, starting with addressing the deterioration in public psychotherapy provision more seriously, which the UK council for psychotherapy pointed out and detailed in 2014.
A bandaid fix
It is likely that many of you know or are surrounded by people (whether they have told you or not) who have been put on waiting lists for 6 months for therapy or more; individuals who shell out £65 for weekly sessions with private therapists; or your friends who have despaired to you about how the forms of therapy they have been receiving are not working. It is these people who the #selfcare trend fails to take into account, as often they are the ones who can’t afford to buy the products that Instagram says will make everything better, or follow the trends of constantly eating out, using expensive bath soaps, buying organic food, and going to the poshest gym. Therefore it is evident that something needs to change, that the self-care bandaid is not a proper treatment, and that while officials are trying - there needs to be more of an effort put into the now as well.
You can become part of changing these statistics through the MQ group, which focuses on demanding progress for young people with mental illness or by signing a petition to improve mental health service funding. Equally, if you need support then the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 and Childline can be reached at 0800 1111 (in the UK). In the US the number for the National Mental Health Association Information Centre is 1-800-969-6642. Other numbers may be found on the Psych Central website.