Trend watch: mental wellness

Mental Wellness was identified by the Global Wellness Institute as the biggest future trend – “period” – out of 8 Wellness Trends for 2017 – and beyond.

The Trends report states that “Mental disorders are skyrocketing globally: between 1990 and today, people suffering from depression or anxiety increased roughly 50% (to over 600 million people – WHO). Antidepressant use has exploded in OECD countries, but simultaneously depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, OCD, phobias (and suicide) keep climbing.”*

Most of us are aware of evidence suggesting that modalities like meditation, exposure to nature, and exercise can have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. So, it seems only natural for people to expect spas – which already emphasize these sorts of things, to focus on this connection. But don’t think it’s a question of faking it ‘til you make it or just repackaging existing menu treatments.

How can you make mental wellness initiatives part of your spa program?

We reached out Gerard Bodeker, Professor of epidemiology at Columbia and Oxford universities, and Chair of the GWI’s Mental Wellness Initiative, and asked him to share some insight.

“Spas are actually doing a good job of creating experience, but mental wellness is not front and centre,” Bodeker says on the phone from Kuala Lumpur. “One of the major clichés in the spa world vocabulary is ‘mind body spirit. But, while ‘mind, body, spirit’ is talked about a lot, the focus is really on ‘body,’ with some sort of additional contribution for mind and spirit like aromatherapy or spa music.”

That’s changing. And the shift is largely being driven by millennials, a cohort that research shows takes a holistic view of health that includes mental wellness.

But what does that mean, exactly?

“Putting mental wellness on the front burner,” says Bodeker, “means understanding how to help people deal with stress, burnout, fatigue, etc. We’re not asking spas to become mental health practitioners – they’re not trained to do that – but to understand these issues and how best to deal with them through massage, meditation, yoga, and so on.”

But, Bodeker cautions, not everyone should be offering mental wellness programs.

“The spa manager needs to realize that offering these programs requires some inner awareness and personal development training on the part of the therapists. Only those spas that really understand this and that really feel inspired to learn and to go down these pathways should pursue them.

Bodeker points to a few of the spas successfully integrating wellness into their programs:

Among them, Five Elements Spa in Bali, Indonesia offer wellness programs such as yoga, meditation, and healing therapies and rituals that include chakra balancing and prana healing.

Another retreat, Kamalaya on the island of Koh Samui, in Thailand, offers wellness programs that include Stress Management, Mind Body Balance, Personal Mentoring, and Meditation.

These are some examples, says Bodeker, of spas taking a genuine approach to wellness, which is key, because if you’re not in it for the right reasons, he says, you shouldn’t bother.

“If it’s just a business opportunity, and it’s going to be talking about mental wellness without really living it on the part of the practitioners then it’s going to be superficial and possibly a bit misguided, and it’s better that spas stay out of it.”

*Take this claim with a healthy dose of (pink Himalayan) salt, as there’s actually much debate in the medical and scientific community over whether mental illness is really increasing, or whether it’s diagnoses that are increasing. But that doesn’t mean paying attention to mental wellness in isn’t important.

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