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Self-Care Culture Creates a Problematic Narrative for Mental Health in College

"Self-care culture is like slapping a Band-Aid on a wound that needs stitches. It’s only a temporary fix to a serious issue."

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Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

Lush, The Body Shop, Bath and Body Works: We all have a vice. Does it come at a cost?

With pretty packaging and expert marketing, companies are profiting off of what many refer to as “self-care culture.” Their primary audience? College students.

It becomes too easy for students to buy into this phenomenon when looking for a quick way to maintain mental health. For a demographic that is primarily made up of individuals who don’t have an excess amount of cash, practices like seeing a therapist are pushed to the wayside for bath bombs and scented candles.

At face value, it’s simple. Why pay 20 dollars — or more, if you don’t have health insurance — in copays every week when you can solve your problems with fizzy bath bars and lavender shampoo? Better yet, throw on your pink fuzzy slippers and pour yourself a glass of cheap wine. Because millennials, “this is self-care.”

The problem with self-care culture is in the inherent disregard for mental healthcare, replacing it with obsessive consumerism.

Granted, marketing is marketing so what good would it be to blame companies for seeking out an opportunity to make money? It goes deeper than that. The self-care craze has developed into a much more dangerous narrative: People nationwide understand that there is a mental health crisis, but are choosing to fix it with products that won’t result in lasting productivity.

Self-care culture is like slapping a Band-Aid on a wound that needs stitches. It’s only a temporary fix to a serious issue.

Somewhere along the line, the media has portrayed pampering yourself as an equivalent to taking care of your mental well-being.

By misconstruing a little indulgence for taking care of yourself, companies are leading an entire generation to believe that mental health issues have simple solutions. In reality, the mind and how it works is anything but simple.

For some, a little time to de-stress in between classes and work is all they need to feel right again but that’s just because they’re prioritizing aspects of their life that might have taken some slack. On the other hand, face masks and lotion will not fix mental health which will result in people asking why what works for some, does not work for others.

Whatever happened to “treat yourself?”

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


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