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Matter of minds

A new study is the first to define and put a value on the global mental wellness industry – estimating it to be worth US$121bn. But what does this mean for spas?

There’s been a huge shift in the way people think about mental wellness this year. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, 15 per cent of the world’s population suffered from mental illness and substance abuse disorders, dementia was on the rise and happiness was declining. In fact, the economic and social burden of mental illness and mental unwellness is predicted to reach US$16.1tn (€13.5tn, £12.2tn) globally by 2030 according to the World Economic Forum. Beyond this, it’s linked to high rates of poverty and has a much wider impact on individuals, families and society.

Being ‘healthy of mind’ could help to address some of these needs and increase people’s overall wellbeing, as well as helping to ease the cost burden of mental illness, giving governments and businesses – including spas – an incentive to support and promote it. Up until now, however, there’s been no attempt to define or quantify this burgeoning market.

First of its kind
It’s with this backdrop that the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) has unveiled a new study that defines mental wellness as an industry for the first time. It pinpoints its worth as a US$121bn (€101.6bn, £91.8bn) sector based on consumer spending in four markets in 2019. Defining the Mental Wellness Economy was released at the Global Wellness Summit (GWS) in the US on 9 November (see Spa Business 2020 issue 4 p82).

Presenting the research, study co-author Ophelia Yeung said: “This grim picture is why mental wellness is so important now and why it has attracted so much interest from consumers and business.”

The study defines mental wellness as more than just an absence of mental illness. It’s “an internal resource that helps us think, feel, connect and function; it is an active process that helps us to build resilience, grow and flourish”.

The GWI study homed in on consumer-facing businesses that provide products and services specifically for mental wellness to calculate its value. Yeung added: “People are desperate for strategies to improve their mental health and businesses have been jumping in with all kinds of products and solutions.”

Four main markets which are coming together in an ‘emerging mental wellness industry’ were identified in the study. These markets, or subsectors, include self-improvement (therapy, coaching, mentoring and cognitive enhancement); meditation and mindfulness; brain-boosting nutraceuticals and botanicals; senses (sensory experiences), spaces and sleep (see Spa Business 2020 issue 4 p91).

As a caveat, the study acknowledges that these subsectors are not necessarily the most important or effective for helping with mental wellness. “They are simply the practices that are most closely and proactively identified by businesses and consumers as being related to mental wellness,” it notes.

Spa relevance
The 122-page industry white paper Mental Wellness: Pathways, Evidence and Horizons has already highlighted how services offered by spas are already proven to benefit the mind (see This new piece of research from GWI now gives spa stakeholders an idea of how to better position themselves in the emerging mental wellness industry. Maybe there’s a niche they haven’t considered. There could be potential for them to specialise in a certain area. Or perhaps they might want to span all of the subsectors.

Joining Yeung in presenting the study findings as co-author Katherine Johnston added: “Businesses can shape and support our mental wellness at an individual and at a community level. They have a huge role to play. At the individual level, businesses are helping to bring new mental wellness modalities and practices to more and more consumers through different channels and at different price points.

“At the community level, businesses also shape our built environments and the culture of those environments.”

■ GWI values the senses, spaces & sleep subsector at US$49.5bn (€41.7bn, £37.3bn), which makes it the biggest in the mental wellness industry. It covers a broad range of products, services and designs that target our senses – sound, scent, light and touch. Spas fit neatly into this category with the growing number offering mood-boosting, multi-sensory experiences – from forest bathing and cuddle therapy to VR and floatation. Sensory-based design and architecture, especially in wellness real estate developments, is a growing part of the sector too. The goliath in this market, however, is sleep and consumer spending on the array of products and services, including tech gadgets, which promote a good night’s sleep is exploding.

■ The self-improvement subsector, estimated to be worth US$33.6bn (€28.2bn, £25.5bn), includes a wide range of self-help and personal development services and activities. Anything from self-help books, apps, online platforms and gurus to organisations and institutes offering classes, workshops and retreats. Destination spas which dedicate numerous sessions to teaching self-care spring to mind here, some, such as Multiversity 1440 in the US, even dedicate their whole offering to this concept.

■ Supplements, herbs and botanicals, and traditional remedies we take to improve our mental health and wellbeing all fall into the brain-boosting nutraceuticals & botanicals subcategory. Also included are functional foods and beverages that claim to have brain health benefits and the growing area of cannabis and its (legal) derivatives for mental wellness and treatment purposes. Maybe this is a subsector that spas could specialise in to differentiate themselves? Or at the very least, this could be a way to boost retail offers. GWI research puts its value at US$34.8bn (€29.2bn, £26.4bn).

■ The meditation & mindfulness subsector encompasses all forms of meditation/mindfulness practices and supporting products. Key revenue categories include classes, retreats, online platforms, apps, books and videos. The research also notes a growing market for accessories and gadgets, trackers and monitors. Estimated to be worth US$2.9bn (€2.4bn, £2.2bn) it’s by far the smallest of the subsectors, but GWI points out millions of people practice meditation and mindfulness worldwide without spending any money on it.

New ‘industry bubble’
The GWI first published its Global Wellness Economy Monitor, which defines and measures the wellness industry worldwide, in 2014. It spans 10 industries, including spas and hot springs, and the latest update values it at an impressive US$4.5tn (€3.8tn, £3.4tn). For the first time, it is now adding a new ‘industry bubble’ with the mental wellness industry which it’s calling “a significant addition to our framework” (see Diagram 1).

“This study is the first time anyone has measured the mental wellness industry and it’s exciting to see these big numbers,” said Johnston. “With the mental wellness crisis the world is facing due to COVID-19, there are massive needs to be met. There’s huge demand and there are huge opportunities. Business innovation is important. But businesses also need to be cautious, because they’re responsible for what they offer and do. We should not look at this US$121bn industry and this study as the next profit-making grab, but rather as an opportunity to make sure we’re offering the right kind of mental wellness solutions to the people who desperately need this help.”

Johnston revealed that next year’s GWI research will focus on updating the numbers in the Global Wellness Economy Monitor. This is set to give some indication of how coronavirus has impacted the industry, as well as potential recovery, following a vaccine rollout.

"People are desperate for strategies to improve their mental health and businesses" – Ophelia Yeung

"With the mental wellness crisis that the world is now facing due to COVID-19, there are massive needs to be met" – Katherine Johnston

The new mental wellness industry research was presented at the 2020 Global Wellness Summit (see Spa Business 2020 issue 4 p82)

Diagram 1 note: Figure for Mental Wellness is for 2019; figure for Physical Activity is 2018; figures for all other sectors are for 2017. Dark coloured bubbles are the sectors for which GWI conducts in-depth, country-level primary research. Light coloured bubbles are sectors for which GWI aggregates global estimates only.

Read more about how the myriad of services offered by spas have already been scientifically proven to benefit the mind in the white paper Mental Wellness: Pathways, Evidence and Horizons – see

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Research: Matter of minds
A new study is the first to define and put a value on the global mental wellness industry – estimating it to be worth US$121bn
ISPA Conference & Expo
ISPA Conference & Expo