The Growing Culture of ‘Self-Care’ Reveals a Dark Truth about Society


Most of us will have heard the phrase ‘self-care’ floating around on blogs or social media recently. The definition of self-care is fairly clear; making sure to eat right, get enough sleep and treat yourself in order to avoid tension and improve mental health. But while self-care seems like a helpful tool for those suffering from stress or mental illness, could this recent trend be masking a deeper problem?

For many, self-care is pleasant and as simple as taking the time during the day to make sure your needs and comforts are met but, for those dealing with trauma or mental illness, relying on self-care can imply that adequate professional healthcare has not been provided where it should have been. The recent trend for individual wellness seems to reveal that too many young people today are dealing with stress and mental health problems alone.

I suffered from anorexia and panic attacks throughout university and my GP was extremely unhelpful; he belittled me and turned me away because my case appeared not to be serious enough. On top of this, private therapy was too expensive and the free campus counsellor couldn’t supply the medication or proper therapy I needed. I turned to self-care and, with the help of my friends and family, recovered completely.

I was a lucky case, but in a developed and compassionate society young people should not have to jump through hoops or pay extortionate amounts to receive basic healthcare for mental health issues, and they certainly should not be expected to recover alone.

One unnamed friend has been unable to receive care for anxiety due to long NHS waiting lists. He said, “I find self-care helpful day-to-day, but realistically scented candles and long walks will not cure my chronic illness, proper professional care will.”

Research by Newstalk Breakfast shows that over 2,500 children and adolescents are on waiting lists for mental health services nationwide, which suggests that self-care isn’t becoming a trend out of desire but necessity. With some children waiting over a year for therapy, people are having to turn to other coping methods, many of which are expensive, inaccessible and time-consuming.

As NHS help is currently struggling to cover demand, it is people on lower incomes who are slipping through the cracks of mental health care. For people who work multiple jobs or have children, taking the time for self-care, including exercise or eating expensive healthy food, is near-impossible. Cuts to social work, free government counselling and the NHS means that often the people who need cheap, accessible care the most are the ones to have it stripped from them.

From the NHS to schools, so much of our state care is now inadequate, leading many young people to struggle in silence. According to research for BBC School Report, half of teenagers with mental health issues try to cope alone. In the same report, 18% of students asked described the help they were offered at school as ‘poor’. While the increase of people taking wellness and mental health seriously is a great thing, evidence shows that schools and hospitals are not keeping up with this crisis in the same way.

At a time in which housing benefits for 18-to- 21-year- olds are about to be scrapped, many workers are turning to zero-hours contracts, and one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, self-care can seem like a temporary, flimsy cover-up for the help that desperately needs to be supplied from above.

The government cannot keep ignoring the growing mental health problem in the UK, and we cannot let young people’s health suffer due to budget cuts and austerity. Mental health is a lifelong priority and, while self-care is necessary, often it is a quick and temporary fix. Going through stress and mental illness alone should not be normalised as part of the trend of self-care, and it’s important to realise that while treating yourself is necessary, it should not be a substitute for professional care when it is needed.

Now that wellness has been pushed into the mainstream it’s crucial for us to note that self-care should not just remain an individual endeavour, but a collective one. Writing to your MP, signing petitions, going on marches and getting angry should be part of our collective self-care if this problem is going to be fixed any time soon.

The mental health crisis is something that has the potential to define the millennial generation, and unfortunately the growing culture of self-care may be the smoke-screen keeping us from the proper cure.

For more information, advice and support on mental health, call Mind’s confidential hotline on 0300 123 3393.

Find Emily: Blog | Twitter