The Realities of the Self-Care Industry: An expensive and inaccessible System

Many of the difficulties associated with self-care are economic — it costs an exorbitant amount of money. Those with an anxiety disorder, depression, or other mental health issues are encouraged to exercise, practice meditation, and eat healthier.   

But the sad truth is that all those habits cost money: A lot of it. It’s a rising industry that Shayla Love, author of the article “The Dark Truths Behind Our Obsession With Self-Care,” accurately described as “Instagrammable” — many companies like have released self-care makeup, detox teas, and various other products that have become incredibly trendy.   

Green tea, black tea, detox tea, white tea cup with a spoon and on a plate
Various forms of detox teas. Image courtesy of ecokarma.

While these products aren’t designed to be evil, they have negative consequences for people who don’t have the resources to obtain them. It seems like the self-care industry symbolizes a generation that “wants to take care of itself.” But does it actually demonstrate how we’re forced to buy into the self-care industry since we can’t depend on society to take care of us?

Here’s one alarming statistic that’s reflective of society’s neglect towards members of its population: Half the people in the United States that suffer from a mental illness don’t receive any mental health services.

We’ve neglected mental health issues for too long, and now individuals suffer because of it

Since the 1960s mental health disorders have been largely ignored by the medical community, at least in comparison to physical disorders. A couple main arguments against mental health treatment at the time were: “difficulty in defining mental illness, the lack of evidence on effective treatments, the high cost of covering mental health care, and the uncertainty in making actuarial estimates of costs,” according to a review by Richard Frank, professor of health economics at Harvard University, in the early 2000s.  

There have certainly been notable improvements in the later 20th and early 21st centuries. In 2014, The Affordable Care Act helped 30 million Americans gain coverage — the benefits included mental health services.

Blue book that says "Affordable Care Act" with a stethoscope and pill bottle
The Affordable Care Act passed on March 23, 2010. Image courtesy of Stanford News.

But despite the amount of beneficial bills passed, many other aspects of our healthcare system complicate the process of obtaining mental health treatment in the real world.

Believe it or not, on average, therapists are actually reimbursed less by insurance companies than non-mental health professionals, making it more difficult for them to make a living. Many of them stop accepting various forms of insurance and therefore more people lose accept to mental health services.

Through the failures of the healthcare industry to provide millions of Americans with mental health services, the self-care industry emerges. So why is self-care, truly, so difficult? Because it’s economically inaccessible.

To make matters worse, nobody wants to admit that it’s inaccessible, and that’s largely thanks to self-care rhetoric. It’s a “neoliberal trap” as described by Jo Chiang, a Tawaianese actor, filmmaker, writer, and queer activist. The responsibility of mental health is shifted to individuals — many of whom don’t have the resources to obtain it themselves.

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