The human temple

A newfound awareness of young people’s mental health is reframing wellness, and the role brands play on the issue.

Over the last few decades, a paradigm shift has changed the overall picture of wellness. The National Wellness Institute defines it, promoting its six dimensions of wellness, as an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more healthy and successful existence. Under this definition, a more successful existence has taken on new meanings, quite beyond physical health alone. Over time, as Xennials and Millennials have approached holistic wellness, they have developed new habits, behaviors, and demands as consumers. Nowadays, all of these drivers and other arising similar social and cultural phenomena are feeding a global wellness market worth $4.5 trillion. Clearly, wellness has become an integral part of the lifestyle world and flourishes throughout every field of the consumer landscape.

From the most traditional spas to big-venues yoga classes, from exclusive retreats that promise a deeper understanding of your inner self to psychedelic microdosing, from beauty elixirs that treat stress-related skin issues to healing crystals, wellness has come a long way. Indeed, whether it’s for wealthy Goop readers seeking what we could dub wealth-ness — wellness as a status-symbol — or for lower-income communities, there is a niche for everyone’s demand within the industry.

Indeed, mental wellness is booming, defining a market by itself. And here’s why.

Reaching Well-being by Sailing Through the Chaos

Climate change is real. Global temperatures are rising, the oceans are warming, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are shrinking, glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world, and extreme weather events are increasingly common — making the US West Coast look like Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner. Political polarization is spreading around the globe, causing a dramatic increase in violent disorders that has surfaced in many forms — geopolitical competition in Yemen and Syria, protests from Hong Kong to Belarus, dominant insurgencies in Somalia, Ethiopia’s ethnic conflicts, and last but not least racial inequity marches, die-ins, and riots across the US and the UK. Besides, economic uncertainty, job insecurity, and the pandemic are streamed 24/7, raising a widespread state of distress and anxiety. Therefore, no wonder a large part of the world’s population suffers from mental disorders.

According to Our World in Data, in 2017, around one billion people experienced one or more mental or substance use disorders.

Among them, young adults (especially Gen Zs) are the most exposed to the enormous mental toll, struggling through some of the most emotionally challenging years in decades. According to the APA Stress in America™ Survey, 91% of Gen Z adults said they have experienced at least one physical or emotional symptom because of stress, such as feeling depressed or sad (58%) or lacking interest, motivation, or energy (55%). Amidst this scenario, technology represents a double-edged weapon. On the one hand, persuasive technology gives rise to mental disorders such as the Fear of Missing Out — FOMO — or Snapchat dysmorphia, that influence people’s daily decisions. Back in 2017, during a talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Chamath Palihapitiya said:

“We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals: Hearts, likes, thumbs up. We conflate that with value, and we conflate it with the truth, and instead, what it really is, is fake, brittle popularity that’s short-term and leaves you, even more — admit it — vacant and empty than before you did it, because then it forces you into this vicious cycle where you’re like ‘what’s the next thing I need to do now because I need it back.’”

On the other hand, it empowers young adults — full of their sense of individual responsibility — with a tool they can use to unleash a new common sense of online activism, get information and education, and share awareness on meaningful topics such as the relevance of mental well-being.

Indeed, while past generations had to cope with invisible illnesses by just ignoring them, nowadays, a stronger focus on mental health has arisen among the youngest generations. The change has determined a cultural mega-shift: a social awakening from the stigma that has always cloaked this issue, as online and offline communities grow awareness around related topics, and new generations rank mental health as their first or second priority in life. And although young adults are unquestionably overwhelmed by feelings — stress, loneliness, guilt, vulnerability, and frustration — there’s still hope in their minds. They strive to be resilient and to approach life through a newfound sensibility, increasing inclusiveness, and creativity.

In the hope of nurturing this resilience, governments, organizations, and businesses are standing alongside youths to deliver support through new meaningful efforts — earning trust and loyalty in return.

Inclusive Wellness

For years the concept of wellness has been linked to luxury, as something attainable only through wealth — exclusive wellness — but as we have seen, major culture shifts have occurred. Thus, brands and organizations are working to address the values and diversity of the new generations, making well-being increasingly more accessible. On the one hand, brands have leveraged digital media, such as Dazed Beauty with its Digital Spa where people can escape the stress of daily life. Specifically, it offers week-long schedules of interactive classes, think pieces, quizzes, and meditative podcasts that discuss the meaning of wellness and attempt to reduce stress. On the other hand, there are organizations such as The Okra Project that delivers free sessions with qualified Black therapists that address social and cultural problems related to the healthcare system, such as racism, homophobia, and transphobia.

Supportive Socials

Gen Zs are digital natives. They have never known a world without the Internet, and 74% of the generation spends their free time online. Moreover, according to a 2018 Pew study, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat are the most popular online platforms among teens. Therefore, it is not surprising that these tech giants are adding new features designed to help young adults cope with their mental well-being. Snapchat has rolled out Here For You, a tool designed to help users face emotional pressure or mental health difficulties with a range of resources from mental health experts. Likewise, Pinterest has made its search bar more empathetic, offering all users searching for mental health — or related topics — a set of emotional well-being activities created with the help of emotional health experts.

Meaningful Media

According to the IBM Institute for Business Value, young adults use their Internet-connected devices mainly to text and chat, followed by 59% of them using their devices to access entertainment apps and websites. As a matter of fact, they consume media much differently than the previous generations, spending more than two hours per day watching video content on YouTube and preferring over-the-top (OTT) services such as Netflix over TV. Therefore, the entertainment business is also affected by the concern over youth mental wellness. Media providers are working to address it — as they do best — by creating content. Netflix debuted a new Instagram Live series called Wanna Talk About It?, that focused on mental health and self-care during the Covid-19 pandemic. With each episode exploring a different subject, such as how to manage anxiety or sleep disorder, the weekly Live series featured famous stars from young adult’s favorite Netflix content and mental health experts. Another player who took part in the movement is HBO Max. The streaming service partnered with Calm to launch A World of Calm, a ten-episode series antidote for our stressful modern lives. The series holds the promise to be the ultimate in relaxing viewing, combining calming imagery with narration by A-list stars. Each half-hour episode relies on the approach of Calm’s successful Sleep Stories, leading viewers through an immersive and de-stressful journey into another world.

Public Peacefulness

Gen Zs are more likely than older generations to look to governments to solve problems — rather than businesses and individuals — 70% say the government should do more to solve problems. While, more in general, according to Edelman, 53% of consumers agree that brands have a responsibility to get involved in at least one social issue that does not directly impact their business. This is why, over the last few years, several shared-wellness experiences have popped up in public spaces — one of the most famous is probably The Emotional Art Gallery by Clear Channel. The Out-of-Home company used its digital advertising kiosks across Stockholm’s Metro to display mood-based works of art, created specifically by artists from around the world to address the stress of the city commuters — giving them a moment of calm and relief through sounds and visuals. And London’s Science Gallery has questioned the causes of and responses to anxiety through the free exhibition and events program ON EDGE: Living in an Age of Anxiety. The season aimed to open a conversation on mental conditions, bringing together artists, scientists, and the perspectives of the new generations through artworks, scientific research, performances, workshops, and more.

In a nutshell

As the relevance of mental health becomes more broadly discussed, and as young adults break the stigma and shame surrounding it and seriously take into account their well-being, brands will increasingly play the role of partners on a journey that leads to a better and more peaceful existence.

Therefore, those who want to win in the wellness economy must inevitably keep these changes in mind and show their commitment by offering products and services that are capable of helping new generations cope with their emotional condition — whether they are online or offline.

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