Dr. Helena Lass is a practicing psychiatrist and mental wellness expert

Going to a spa is an experience that allows us to pamper ourselves in order to get away and recharge from the stresses and strains of our busy lives. Whether it’s a spa day or short massage at a spa closer to home or a longer planned holiday abroad to restore our health and fully recharge. Whilst our physical wellness needs are well met in all quality spas, the mental wellness aspect is often missing. 

The Global Wellness Institute’s estimated that the global spa market grew from $94 billion in 2013 to $118.8 billion in 2018. Despite this spas still largely orientate themselves towards their client’s physical needs. Massages, treatments, nutritional programmes and healthy eating, and as of late, yoga classes and guided meditation techniques, only partially offer what people actually need in terms of improving their overall wellness. 

While it is easy to forget life outside of the spa during your massage or yoga class, sooner or later you will again come face to face with your own internal processes. Thinking about family, work or your business situation often consumes your time and brings forward worry and other emotions, even when on holiday. Our internal problems stay with us, making it difficult to truly get away from it all.

The Leela Kovalam Beach Resort – good for relaxation. Photo by Kaur Lass

Sooner or later our internal attitudes, worry and mental health related problems such as stress, pressure, anxiety, burnout and depression catch up with us. While the spa experience and meditation may offer temporary relief the question remains, are there more permanent solutions for mental wellness? This question needs addressing as every fourth person experiences mental health problems during their life. So, the real question is – could a spa experience of the future also lay a foundation for mental wellness?

Mental Wellness – a Proactive Approach

A proactive approach to mental wellness has largely been missing. In March 2018, psychiatrist and founder of Wellness Orbit, Dr. Helena Lass, brought forward a compelling argument for an innovative proactive approach to mental wellness in her Routledge published scientific paper, Developing Intra-Personal Skills as a Proactive Way to Personal Sustainability – The Preventative Side of the Mental Health Equation’. She puts forward the hypothesis that early proactive intervention in the form of structured inner education increases quality of life and decreases the chances of stress, anxiety, burnout, and depression all of which have become epidemic in their proportions, and can have severe consequences on an individual’s quality of life and their mental health. This new approach could be used in spas. A side from massage and meditation classes, an hour in a day could be spent learning new intra-personal skills (‘intra’ – meaning inside). 

Dr Helena Lass enjoying the Kerala sunset in a Spa Resort. Photo: Kaur Lass

Due to mental wellness skills not being taught in schools, most of us lack a proper understanding of how our inner domain is built. Because we have such a vague idea of why mental wellness is so important and what we can do ourselves to sustain good mental health, it’s understandable that people tend to look for short-term fixes like articles with quick fix ‘tips’ and shortcuts. Most of us who work with people know well – habits don’t change overnight. This statement is equally valid in terms of physical and mental wellness.

The main issue of mental wellness is that it falls into no mans land. It doesn’t fall under the responsibility of health care systems and educational institutions, nor is it taught in workplaces as a useful skill for increasing productivity. Spas are no exception and mostly lack good mental wellness solutions.

While training massage therapists is relatively easy, the real problem here is a lack of medical doctors focusing on mental wellness who could work with clients in the spa. That’s why Dr. Lass and our team dreams big and due to this lack of psychiatrists sees that the solution needs to be digital. Only then it would be scalable and accessible when needed. A digital approach is probably the only way to tackle mental wellness as even hospitals lack psychiatrists who are able to sufficiently deal with mental health problems. 

Mental Wellness as an Investment

It is very often the case that companies, organisations and business owners themselves bare the brunt in terms of the costs relating to workplace related mental health problems. Work related stress, burnout, depression and anxiety, all have major impacts on businesses. The direct and indirect consequences come in form of presenteeism and absenteeism and result in employee sick leave and unfinished work related tasks left undone at critical moments. 

Evans-Lacko, S. & Knapp, M.’s scientific paper from 2016 entitled, ‘Global patterns of workplace productivity for people with depression: absenteeism and presenteeism costs across eight diverse countries’, saw data collected from almost 8,000 employees spanning eight countries. The results of the survey revealed that worldwide workplace depression collectively costs almost $250 billion. For the U.S. this translates to $84.7 billion (or 0.5% of U.S. GDP) in losses due to non-existent productivity when at work (presenteeism) and $6 billion lost through people not showing to work (absenteeism) because of illness. The study also saw 3.7 percent of the collective American workforce have more than 21 consecutive days off from work because of depression. 

In the United Kingdom, The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health’s 2006/07 report entitled, Mental Health at work report entitled, ‘Mental health at work: developing the business case’, found that the overall cost to UK employers of stress, anxiety and depression amounted to £1,035 (with current exchange rate about $1360) per employee per year. Interestingly, ten years on, the same mental health centre provided an update in their, ‘The business costs ten years on’ 2016/17 report, and their findings make for interesting reading. The updated report showed that the same overall costs increased to £1,300 ($1700) per employee per year, reflecting a significant 25.6 percent rise over a ten-year period. Absenteeism increased 17.9 percent, ‘presenteeism’ 30.5 percent and staff turnover went up some 21 percent during 10 years. The pan-European study by Matrix concluded that workplace costs related to depression alone are an incredible €617 billion ($697 billion) per year in Europe.

Health Affairs,Workplace Wellness Programs Can Generate Savings2010 found that companies that have an employee wellness program see positive returns. Their report also found that for every dollar spent on employee wellness, medical costs fell by $3.27 and absenteeism dropped by $2.73 per employee, representing a six-to-one return on the company’s initial investment. Similarly, Hamberg-van Reenen et al. 2012, found that over the course of two years returns per employee were $257, and saw a significant ROI of 302%, equating to a return of $ 4.02 for every dollar invested.

Who Cares For Those Who Care?            

What about those whose jobs are to provide excellent care for clients who pay good money to relax and alleviate their stress?

How do you expect your staff at your spa to be able to perform at their optimum level if they themselves feel stressed, under pressure, facing burnout, or have other personal mental health problems they feel inadequately prepared to deal with? Is the spa business immune to presenteeism and absenteeism? Or is it that sometimes your clients complain that your staff did a somewhat ‘mechanical job’ on their massage and lacked attention to detail and finesse in providing services to them? I have to admit, on more than one occasion in the past I have been forced into such a situation. What I have noticed is – just because people might work in a peaceful and relaxed work environment, doesn’t mean they are free of internal conflict. 

Providing spa staff the possibility to learn intra-personal skills not only provides them the tools to learn how they can care for themselves, but also enables them to notice and become more aware of their clients needs. It is obvious that this will again result in a more personal level of service provided, as your staff will be more fully present in what they do. When your clients notice that there is more attention to detail being delivered, it adds additional value to your services. 

Beautiful and relaxed holiday environment for the customer is just a daily routine for the Spa personel. Photo Kaur Lass

Only when people proactively learn and realise how their inner domain functions, can a more sustainable way of handling and preventing problems emerge. Which will translate to you dealing with healthier, happier and more productive employees. It is needless to say this will in turn lead to more satisfied clients. 

Mental Rejuvenation

When mental wellness is considered in a proactive approach, we can liken it to going to a spa. It is proactive approach. Going to the spa best helps us before serious illness take hold. The same applies on a mental wellness level. Learning intra-personal skills in a digital mental wellness gym can make you feel refreshed and internally motivated afterwards. What we have found is that people would be happy to consume mental wellness if it is presented as a spa or gym type of experience with a one-on-one feel. Instead of their physical body being trained, people train their knowledge-tools and practice directing their inner functions whenever they want or need to, be it at work, at home or on whilst on holiday. Going one step further would be to offer mental wellness training as part of the overall spa experience. Dr. Lass and my team are keen to find partners who would want to make this a possibility for their clients. 

By learning, training and directing intra-personal skills, a vast amount of inner potential willopen up that can ultimately advance human capacity. Intra-personal skills allow us to regulate our inner functions, prevent stress and serious mental health problems, leading us towards higher productivity, less time off, and better mental wellness. By offering both your staff and your clients the chance to learn intra-personal skills means that when they return to work, they return not only feeling physically revitalised, but also mentally rejuvenated and are able to perform at their optimum level.

The scientific paper by Dr Helena Lass in Routledge (London & New York 2018).

Dr. Lass’ scientific paper shifts the focus from the external reactive problem solving in mental health arena towards a more proactive education on mental wellness, whereby people who are still well already know how to prevent further escalation of negative states into illness. If we are mentally well, then we live well and work well.