Feeding into snowflake culture

"It seems like there’s a movement to push therapy on young people who arguably might not need it ... "

FOUNDATION FOR ECONOMIC EDUCATION – There is a common criticism that therapy has become too mainstream and commercialized, feeding into snowflake culture.

From influencers receiving sponsorships to promote mental health apps to the prominence of online therapy advertisements on social media, it seems like there’s a movement to push therapy on young people who arguably might not need it.

As the substack writer Freya India writes on the matter: “Maybe you’re struggling because [therapy] companies are taking your human need for connection, your normal feelings of stress and sadness, and using all this to sell solutions that leave you more anxious and alone. Because again: what could be more profitable?”

To say that this mental health epidemic is simply an invention of mental health companies to sell their apps and therapy is like saying that time was invented by clock companies to sell more clocks. The reality is that these services are so popular because there is already an existing demand for them. These companies are responding to the demand for support that so many young people are communicating.

Why are so many young people feeling so uncomfortable with themselves that they feel the need for external help? There are myriad factors, such as movies and books like Thirteen Reasons Why romanticizing mental health problems, or the destruction of support systems with the increase in broken homes, or social media causing young people to feel isolated and insecure. It’s tough to be a young person.

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Addressing these issues is important. However, to fault the therapy companies that are reacting to the crisis is taking the blame off these other factors.

Who Needs Therapy?

It is incredibly subjective to determine who actually needs therapy. As individuals, we are all different. Not only do we have unique experiences but we also have unique reactions to our experiences. One struggle may seem like no big deal for one person but might be an absolute deal breaker for another. As such, the best person to evaluate what’s best for you is yourself.

As many people note, private therapy isn’t cheap. For most people, the decision to invest their time and money into receiving therapy isn’t a light decision, so we should trust them when they say they need help. You have the biggest stakes in your own wellbeing and you are the only one who can see inside your head.

Is the State Any Better?

Private therapy may be expensive, but compare this to state provided mental healthcare where services are rationed. From a 2022 report about the British National Health Service (NHS) youth mental health services, a great proportion of referrals are denied because the symptoms are not severe enough. Half of GPs say that at least 6 in 10 referrals they make for anxiety, depression, conduct disorder and self-harm are routinely rejected because the young people’s symptoms are deemed not severe enough.

From my own experiences with the NHS, after months of waiting for a consultation from mental health professionals, I was discharged because I was not self harming even though I was experiencing severe mental health issues. Through my youth activism around mental health, it is a sad inside joke that the majority of young people seeking this help have had a terrible experience with the NHS’s youth mental health services.

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Like many young people, this left me feeling distrustful with therapy. Imagine opening up about the most vulnerable part of yourself only to be told that you’re not worthy of receiving help. The state deciding who can access mental health support has led to too many young people feeling worse about themselves.

The Truth about Private Healthcare

A few months ago, I decided to try out online therapy through BetterHelp. There was a completely different vibe from the state-provided healthcare I had previously received.

First, it was nice to be able to receive the therapy within a week, compared to the long waiting lists that those trying to access help from state healthcare are subjected to.

It was made clear from the start that I had autonomy over who I received help from. If I didn’t like a therapist, I could choose another one. There was an understanding that mental healthcare is a personal thing and different people fit better with different types of therapies and therapists.

Meanwhile, with state healthcare, you’re lucky enough to get seen. The idea of having a choice over a therapist seems laughable considering how hard it is to get one in the first place.

There’s also this notion that private therapy is simply about reassurance, keeping the patients dependent on the therapy so the companies can continue to profit. However, from my own experience this isn’t the case. The therapy sessions have provided me with the tools to navigate my issues. The main platforms hire trained professionals who want to help their patients get better, not keep them in a cycle of dependence.

Furthermore, if these therapy sessions were simply to make the customers feel worse about themselves, companies like Betterhelp simply wouldn’t be as successful. Personally, if I thought that my therapy sessions weren’t helping or even making my symptoms worse, there are plenty of other things I’d much rather spend the money on.

Treating patients as customers means that these service providers have an incentive to serve them and give them a better quality service. If a customer is unhappy, they can simply stop going to therapy or try another service. It’s in the company’s best interest to provide a better quality service than its competitors.

Too Much Therapy?

One of the main arguments that Freya India makes is that through excessive targeted ad campaigns, these companies are encouraging people who don’t need therapy to buy their services. Even if it is the case that people who may “not need” mental health support are accessing it anyway, so what? It’s like discouraging someone reading a self-help book because they seemingly already have their lives together. Even for those who don’t believe government action is wrong, it’s hard to argue that someone talking to a trained professional about their feelings once a week is harmful enough that it should require state intervention in prohibiting these ad campaigns.

Moreover, banning therapy ads only takes into account what is seen, it takes no account of what is not seen. If these advertisements were banned, then those who need therapy but are unaware that these services exist, or that they might not be as expensive as they might think, will be left in the dark and will not receive the help they need.

The Real Problem

It’s absolutely true that a lot of people are receiving therapy, plenty more than anyone would like to see. However, the issue isn’t that they have access to the therapy but that they feel the need to seek therapy in the first place. It’s not ideal that so many people feel that they need to find external help to deal with their emotions. It is important that we strive towards providing young people with the emotional skills to deal with their problems so they don’t have to resort to therapy.

However, to make therapy less accessible is to remove the support system to people who need help. Instead of attacking the services responding to this issue, we need to focus on building foundations for young people to thrive independently.

Jess Gill is the Communications and Social Manager for Ladies of Liberty Alliance (LOLA) and a Hazlitt Fellow with the Foundation for Economic Education.


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