The Economics of Anxiety: How Wellness is Cashing in
Let me tell you something. There was a period in my life when I suffered from anxiety. Anxiety became my life. Now, I’ve learnt to deal with it, manage it and more or less conquer it. To this extent, I’m more sensitive than most to what’s been promoted around me. Like me, you may have noticed that stress and anxiety is big business at the moment and there are plenty of people making a lot of money from it.
From the new wave of ‘unicorn’ apps such as Calm and Headspace, where instant ‘relief’ from your monkey mind is available ‘ on tap’ on your smartphone, to the CBD craze rocking its way though health stores, the list of products and applications wanting your business whilst trying to cure your troubled mind from anxiety is endless. Mental health is big business. For some unashamedly.
We now have calendars populated full of days and weeks dedicated to certain themes such as ‘mental health’, ‘stress’, even ‘meditation’, amongst others, reminding marketers to post or promote their brands at such time with appropriate hashtags and posts. It’s hard not to think that the very ‘awareness’ theme is really just an opportunity for self-promotion. Call me a cynic, but I think it’s largely true.
What’s more, with allegedly one in 6 of us having a mental health issue, that leaves 5 out 6 of us who are not, but who are constantly receive mixed messages about how mindfulness, CBD and the latest fairy tale super adaptogen can be the answers to all of our prayers. It can be overwhelming at times.
The Effectiveness of Mental Health Products for Anxiety
Sure, give me a digital dose of guided relaxation or a hit of CBD infused water, but are they really going to address the underlying issues causing my anxiety symptoms? If you see a product containing CBD, or another well-known relaxant, the marketing message is clear:
take this product to feel better.
But we have no idea as to its potency or effectiveness. It’s more likely that the concentration is so small that it doesn’t have any therapeutic effect. With the placebo effect, it’s hard to really judge just how effective these widely distributed products are.
Likewise, any app that promotes ‘guided meditation’ or reduction in levels of anxiety will lead users to believe the app will have a positive effect upon their mental health. It may even create a dependency. One only has to type in ‘anxiety’ in the App Store and a whole host of apps come up. How many of those apps are really going to make a difference, in a guided, safe way? Good question.
Some Empirical Studies
Recent research undertaken by the Victorian Department of Health reveals apps that are highly regarded in their attempts to improve mental health. These include well-known brands such as Headspace. Another study also showed that long-term users of the app Stop, Breathe & Think (SBT) demonstrated a positive change in their emotional state and reductions in the levels of their anxiety.
We have even seen inroads being made in the topic of ‘e-meditation‘ – devices that can be used to assist users experience deeper states of brain wave activity. If the next generation of tech means that devices are available for people who otherwise cannot experience the benefits of meditation, then that’s progressive. If it leads them on a path where mindfulness and meditation independently become a part of their daily life, then that’s a step in the right direction.
Therapy or Mental Hygiene?
If on the other hand, if tech becomes a means by which people can access ‘relief’ instantly through their smart phones, then that’s just ‘mental hygiene’.
Let me give you an example of a gentleman who came to one of my recent meditation events. He wanted to experience group meditation because his experiences so far of meditation were through well-known apps, which he used from time to time as a means to bring some peace. In times of stress, he would quickly reach to this phone to bring some relief, but it was only temporary. In reality, all it was doing was pushing the problem response away – the app became a tool rather than asking in the first place whether the cognitive response to that thought pattern was appropriate. The causes of the anxiety weren’t been addressed at all.
When it comes to mental health, the costs are enormous. And with costs come industry and profit potential. People will pay for perceived transformation, even if that comes at a significant cost. To some extent, your health is ‘priceless’, and that’s what makes the wellness industry so big – people are prepared to pay big dollars in order to ‘restore’ their body and mind. The challenge then for players in the market is to offer a product that is life changing, and transforming.
Mental Health is a Long Term Game
The truth of the matter is that mental health is a long-term game, and in the case of anxiety or depression, it often doesn’t entirely ‘go away’. Relapses occur and managing conditions becomes the key to functioning on a day-to-day basis.
Moreover, it is important that coping strategies are developed that extend beyond reaching out to a smart phone or magic oil – through exercise, through breathing, through proper nutrition. If the treatment of mental health becomes dependent on one solution only, then the chances are that it will fail. Health is a holistic game, after all.
Good mental health can be bloody hard work. Whilst anything that can be used to reduce tension and induce a relaxation response is useful, the successful recovery from mental health issues is likely to involve deeper work. Unfortunately, the line between the two in the trillion-dollar world of wellness is often more blurred.
What’s your experience of products aimed at mental health? Have they really helped you or did they not make a difference?