Mental health is moving out of the shadows—and brands are taking note.
“It’s ok, to not be ok.” It may sound like an affirmation from an inspirational Instagram account, but it’s actually the slogan for a new line of cafés launching at British retailer Marks & Spencer. In partnership with bestselling author and mental health awareness campaigner Ruby Wax, Frazzled Cafe will launch across the retailer’s UK stores over the next few months.
“Ruby’s Frazzled Cafe is a simple, pressure-free way of tackling what can be a taboo subject—feeling stressed,” Marks & Spencer retail director Sacha Berendji stated in a press release. “We hope that by providing free and calm venues after the café has closed, we can help any members of the community who simply need to talk about things and what’s happening in their lives.”
Frazzled Cafe reflects an important trend among consumers. Mental illness, once heavily stigmatized in the public, is now being normalized, discussed and even wrapped into the conversation around overall well-being. Driven by outspoken celebrity advocates and a progressive younger generation, today’s consumers are more likely to seek help to manage anxiety, depression, and more—be it through therapy, mindfulness practices, or even shopping environments that promote a state of calm.
Frazzled Cafes will pop up in Marks and Spencer’s existing cafe spaces, and will be led by trained volunteers. The biweekly sessions will serve as a supportive “talk circle” for anyone feeling overwhelmed, stressed and, well, frazzled. Eleven stores are currently set to host the cafes, with more set to be added throughout the year.
“We live in a time where to have a life crammed to the hilt is considered a success story,” Wax stated. “But with all this pressure, so many of us have nowhere to go to meet and talk about it. Frazzled Cafe is about people coming together to share their stories, calmly sitting together, stating their case and feeling validated as a result.”
Retail is not the only sector taking note of shifting attitudes towards mental health. At the end of 2016, Instagram rolled out a new mental health support feature. Alongside “like” and “comment,” users can now flag posts that may indicate a need for help. Similar to parent company Facebook, Instagram will suggest resources to flagged users. Apps like Pacifica and Calm use tactics from therapy to manage stress and anxiety. And Headspace, one of a handful of apps that offers on-demand meditations to deal with stress, was recently valued at about $250 million dollars.
The shift is also reflected in new media. ANXY, a new magazine that begins shipping in May, aims to create a space to bring mental health issues out of the shadows. “Statistics show that one of five women have had this type of trauma experience,” founder Indhira Rojas told the Innovation Group. “Why are we not having these conversations if we know, statistically, that more of us are out there?” Other publications launching this year that take on mental health include 2AM Club, from Indonesia, and Do What You Want, from UK food writer Ruby Tandoh.
“As a society, we’re gaining a greater understanding of psychology and mental health, and the influence that it has in how our body reacts to stress,” Rojas continued. “We have language for that. And I think that those concepts are getting more and more established and validated, and people are getting more comfortable around the validity of psychology. That’s also allowing these conversations to happen.”
In the UK, the National Health System (NHS)’s annual survey found that one in four adults had been diagnosed with a mental illness. The cost of mental illness in the UK, according to an independent Mental Health Taskforce to the NHS, is roughly £105 billion annually. In the US, published studies report that about 25% of adults have a mental illness, while nearly 50% will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime. There are signs, however, of changing winds: A recent survey of US college-age adults found that 60% considered it a sign of strength to seek professional mental health services, compared to just 35% of older adults.
As consumers reconsider their relation to the always-on lifestyle, a new awareness of the medical realities of stress continues to shift the conversation around anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Moving forward, look for more brands to find ways to connect to consumers around this reconfigured value system.
For more on consumer attitudes toward health and wellness, keep an eye out for our forthcoming report on the future of health, The Well Economy.