As Generation Snowflake transitions us away from the stiff upper lip of Britain’s past, Matt Chittock explores how this sector of society is opening up the conversation about mental health, and how health stores can play a key part in supporting their customers in matters of the mind
Are we facing a mental health crisis? The stats seem to say so, with a huge one in four people currently living with a mental health condition in the UK, according to Mind. These can manifest as anything from anxiety disorder to depression to obsessive compulsive disorder.
The good news is that how we discuss mental health seems to be changing. From Prince William to Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams, more high-profile people are opening up about their personal issues.
Commentators who idealize the Great British ‘stiff upper lip’ may moan about ‘Generation Snowflake’, however rising awareness is creating an atmosphere in which the public can comfortably talk about how they’re feeling – a key part of staying healthy.
And as the culture changes, so does the part natural health stores can play in maintaining their customers’ wellbeing.
“Mental health is a huge category for us and it’s really changed in the last decade,” says Keren Brynes-Maclean, owner of the Health Food and More store in Kirkcaldy.
“I’ve worked in the natural health industry for 30 years and when I first started we used to sell a lot of products like Quiet Life to reduce people’s stress,” she says. “But now I think people are looking for adaptogens rather than herbal sedatives, or other traditional approaches. I think that’s because we’ve lost a lot of licensed products over the years, and as there’s more research around, others take their place.”
As you’d expect, proven staples like St John’s wort are popular in the store. But Brynes-Maclean explains that the category’s best-sellers are currently Lambert’s Rhodiola and Fushi’s Ashwagandha. She says that ashwagandha has a ‘nice, calming quality’ that customers favour, while rhodiola helps people ‘put their brakes on’ to reduce stress.
“One other big seller for stress is Viridian’s L-Theanine,” she adds. “We sell lots of it. It’s an amino acid derived from green tea, and because it’s a supplement it works very quickly. You feel calm, not sedated, so it’s great for things like exam stress or taking your driving test. We’re big fans of Viridian here because of its quality and lack of fillers.”
Away from the shop floor, natural health champion Janey Lee Grace has experienced first-hand the effects of poor mental health issues. “My mother has bipolar, so my childhood memories are of her being in and out of hospital – sometimes fine, sometimes chaotic,” she says. “At the ripe old age of 91 I don’t think she has ever been offered any ‘talking therapies’, only a huge collection of drugs.
“Rising awareness is creating an atmosphere in which the public can comfortably talk about how they’re feeling”
“I have not one, but three friends with teenagers who have self-harmed or tried suicide,” she adds. “That’s horrendous. There simply isn’t the support there for them, and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are stretched beyond capacity.”
Lee Grace says that taking a holistic approach is key to coping with mental health problems. “Mindfulness, perhaps leading to meditation, can be amazing – and that’s free or very inexpensive,” she points out.
Nutrition-wise she ‘looks to wholefoods first’, with cashew nuts, fresh fruit and leafy green vegetables offering a natural lift.
“If you can get real cacao chocolate, such as ‘ceremonial grade’ cacao, that is definitely mood-boosting. You get all the indulgence without the guilt.”
As always, fresh research is helping brands to develop effective new products in the sector. And in Brynes-Maclean’s experience ‘where the research goes, so does
For example, a meta-analysis published in The European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research suggests the benefits of Potter’s Memory & Focus product comes from its anti-anxiety qualities.
Other research has revealed that over a third of people taking probiotics say these are effective against anxiety.
“Scientists call the gut the ‘second brain’ because it is filled with neurotransmitters we usually associate with being in the brain,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville.
“It has its own complex nervous system and also, just like your brain, produces serotonin, the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. Our brain and gut are therefore intimately connected, and that’s why they can affect each other so much.”
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