Thursday 10th October was World Mental Health Day. You probably saw plenty of posts on social media from celebrities, authors, bloggers and the like. Raising awareness of mental health is a step towards dismantling stigma and creating a more open society where everyone can receive the support they need. But how much of this concern is genuine and how much of it is marketing? Jess Vernon discusses.
‘Money can’t buy you happiness’ … ‘but I’d rather cry in a Ferrari’
There’s not a lot that isn’t monetised these days. However, if you hear ‘mental health’ it usually calls to mind a medical context – that of care and necessity rather than profit. Nevertheless, it’s becoming apparent that companies are increasingly focused on targeting emotional rather than practical needs. We’ve all heard the saying ‘money can’t buy you happiness’ and it seems the more recent addition of ‘but I’d rather cry in a Ferrari’ is a good representation of our culture of buying to fill the void.
Where did this attitude come from? Beyond their usual manipulative tactics, companies are starting to use data on our moods to inform how they market products with some events even using smile-tracking technology to determine if and when people are happy (sounds a bit Orwellian if you ask me (The Happiness Project, by William Davies.) There are now countless products aimed at improving ‘well-being’ and the market it is estimated to be worth a massive $4.2 trillion as of 2017. With platforms such as Instagram transforming into tailor-made advertising catalogues with ‘#ad’ and ‘#sponsored’ popping up everywhere, it’s no surprise that the blogger generation are part of a wider industry that markets ‘well-being’ as a fix-all solution for declining mental health, as discussed in The New York Times. Ceaseless feeds of beautiful people doing yoga, eating açai bowls and telling us to buy their book or scented candles contribute to the idea that if we just live ‘better’ (and spend our money) we too can achieve ultimate happiness.
The rising tide of people being discontented is still there even after the bath bomb has fizzled away
Surely this isn’t that bad? Isn’t it better to market things to improve people’s mood than to sell them things at their detriment? A key reason this mood-marketing is so lucrative is because it is an insatiable need – the underlying mental health issues and their causes still remain, even after you have bought all the luxury bath products you can possibly afford. William Davies, in his book The Happiness Industry, cites research that the loneliest people spend more and the most materialistic amongst us are more likely to be lonely, creating a market with endless potential at the expense of society’s most vulnerable.
The growing trend of ‘well-being’ marketing shifts the responsibility for mental health onto those that are struggling, rather than addressing the socio-political factors that bring about higher rates of anxiety, depression and the lack of services and funding to provide support. Spending money on products to improve ‘well-being’ whilst you are stressing about affording rent only exacerbates the problem and benefits only the companies selling you the stuff. The rising tide of people being discontented is still there even after the bath bomb has fizzled away.
This is not to say that taking time for yourself, making your environment nice or buying a gym membership is futile in improving mental health; these can be useful tools in improving mood, but they are not a magic fix on their own. There’s not something deficient about us that we can make up for with things, rather the way we are told we ought to live doesn’t have our best interests at its heart. I believe that as a society we should be seeking a prevention rather than a cure.
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