Courtesy of The Raithwaite Estate Spa, N Yorks
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Mental Health and Wellness

- by  Aija Rozenberga - University of Derby

 

MentalHealth

 

Happy people have some things in common. That lightness in their steps or twinkle in eyes, and the glowing aura of optimism.The happiest people in the world walk or cycle to work, swim in cold open waters, they are creative in their work life, regularly meet up with friends, and have strong sense of community and meaningful social interaction. At least that is whatMeik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, seems to think.  

Sadness, in contrary, has many shades and is as unique as our fingerprints, our first childhood memories and most painful experiences. Maybe that’s part of the reason we often fail to notice mental illness in our communities or even when it is close to home.

Newspaper headlines remind us on a daily basis that we are stressed more than ever, out of balance and out of touch with ourselves and reality around us. Statistics say that many of us are not happy despite relative economic development and prosperity. How do we get stuck in the cycle of consumerism- earning money to buy things we don’t need? Is it rising economic inequality that contributes to more and more people feeling left out and scared or angry?Does sedentary lifestyle alter our brain patterns?  Or maybe it is something to do with food we consume and biology?

Growing awareness about mental health has helped to bring it into the public attention, but meaningful understanding is still often lacking.

The World Health Organization reports that around 450 million people currently suffer from some form of mental disorder. However, the actual numbers could be much higher as many do not report mental illness out of fear being stigmatised and discriminated.

By mental health we understand our psychological, emotional, and social well-being. 

It is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her full potential, can work fruitfully and able to make contributions to community. It is mainly our mental health that determines how we relate to others, how we care about ourselves, and respond to stressful situations. There are some factors that protect people from mental illness such as strong parental attachment during early childhood, solid social support network, healthy environment, economic stability and a good work-life balance.The World Happiness Report identified factors such as social support, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and absence of corruption in government and business as best representing different aspects of the social foundations of wellbeing. 

On the other hand, there are aspects that increase the risk of mental illness, for example, difficult life experiences, trauma, abuse and also biological factors. Exactly how much biology and physiology actually impacts our mood and emotional wellbeing is only recently being brought to our attention. As more and more evidence starts to emerge about the gut-brain axis, we may be facing a paradigm shift on mental wellness. The gut-brain axis is the biochemical signaling that takes place between the GI tract and central nervous system and involves complex crosstalk between the endocrine, immune and autonomic nervous system. There are some interesting facts to consider such as; the gut is forty times larger than the area of the skin and 2/3 of our immune system is being trained in our gut.  There is 100 trillion bacteria living in our gut with thousands of different species. About 20 different kinds of hormones are produced by the gut and nervous system of the gut is very complex. There are more than 500 million information-transmitting neurons embedded in the wall of the human gut. More surprisingly, 90% of nerve fibres that connect the brain and gut deliver information from the gut to our brain. What’s more, not all aspects of microbiome are fully understood and research in this field is ongoing. Given those facts, it is only logical to conclude that gut bacteria are actually playing an important role in our mental health. We are worried about bugs causing illnesses, but in reality, 90% of bacteria in the world can’t harm us as they have no DNA to do so. Contrary to this, bacteria actually may help us to be healthy, to be brave and even happy.  Studies have suggested that even single prolonged use of antibiotics may permanently alter gut microbiome. The emerging thoughts are that it may be easier to alter brain function through the manipulations of the gut or though the diet and nutrition. It all comes down to simple, but good quality food, eventually.

What can the spa and wellness industry do about mental health issues facing todays’ modern world?

 Compare Retreat’s survey recently concluded, wellness travelers are showing a significant shift towards mental health as their main focus on retreats as 62.9 % of survey respondents ranked mental health as their top priority.

This may present a unique opportunity to the spa and wellness industry to offer personalised products and services. Spas are already tranquil places providing therapeutic treatments, healing human touch and a relaxing atmosphere. In addition to this, spas could offer more workshops on healthy nutrition, work closely with yoga teachers, musicians, artists and dance teachers to deliver creative art classes, music therapy, or biodanza lessons for their customers. Art therapy is known to improve people’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Research has found that music therapy and biodanza can decrease anxiety.

Wellness diagnostic tools could be used in spas to help determine inflammation, oxidation and glycation, which are damaging processes also linked to declining mental health. 

What’s more, looking after your staff and providing nutritious, healthy meals and snacks may, in the long run, increase profitability of the spa as happy and healthy employees are more productive. 

We all could contribute to better awareness of mental health. Public attitude and education in relation to mental health plays a very important role in society in the eradication of stigma. Although the UK scores highly in reducing the stigma associated with mental health and increasing awareness of mental illness, in reality, funding to support those struggling with mental issues is not adequate.  After all, it is not just for the individual good, but also in the interest of the general public that every member in a community is mentally independent, capable of building good relationships and feels useful and valued. It is the foundation and driving force of prosperity. As Pablo Picasso once said: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Or share. 

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Monday, 20 May 2019

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