Key words: Eating Disorders, wellness tourism, mental health, accessible tourism
It has been recorded that one in 6 adults experience symptoms of a mental health condition each week and that whilst these conditions affect both male and females, women aged 16 – 24 are 3 times more likely to have a mental health condition than males of the same age (Mental Health Foundation, 2016, 5). There is a plethora of mental health conditions that are affecting people within the UK including eating disorders. In 2015-2016, more than 15,000 UK students admitted to having a mental health disorder and nearly 90,000 students seeked counselling services (Government, 2019). These significant numbers show that the young people within the UK are suffering whilst undertaking their studies and that mental health services are needed.
Cuts to the NHS (National Health Service) have led to people looking for mental health services in less conventional areas including hypnotherapy, healing and wellness tourism retreats. Charities such as Mind and Beat are a pathway that people have turned to for support due to the delay in help from the NHS which may lead to people may be losing trust in the NHS. Wellness tourism offers the advantage of booking a trip and then having a set period of time just purely focused on their recovery with specialists on hand.
Wellness tourism resorts are places that people are able to escape and recuperate from their daily lives by receiving entertainment, social interaction and high-quality experiences (Richins and Hull, 2016, 25). Travel allows for individuals to move away from their gendered role and self-identity at home to explore new cultures and potentially new versions of themselves (Fullagar, 2011). When asked in an interview a female traveller stated that travel increased her depression instead of recovery and so this shows that there are always two sides to every story (Fullagar, 2011). Overall there is the significant question of whether wellness tourism is a successful option within mental health recovery or is it just a fad that uses false advertising.
Eating disorders can be defined in many ways but a general overall definition states that those affected commonly have an obsessive view with their body and weight which has led to an unhealthy relationship with food which leads to the person becoming very ill (NHS, 2019). Beat (2019), is a UK based eating disorder charity whose recent statistics reported that approximately 1.25 million people in the UK now suffer with an eating disorder and that 25% of those recorded were male.
Buhalis and Darcy (2011, 46) suggested that ‘Tourism for all’ is a statement that is often seen but how often is this true. When looking at accessible tourism it has been suggested that accessible tourism focuses on creating opportunities for people who have physical disabilities and not mental health problems (Iacopetti, 2015).
Body image issues are a major factor for young people who suffer with eating disorders and social media can play a significant role in influencing negative feelings. In a recent survey, Instagram was named the worst social media platform for mental health and well-being (Government, 2019). Social media shows young people what they should supposedly aspire to but this leads to feeling of inadequacy if the young person is unable to attain the desired lifestyle (Government, 2019).
There is a certain perception that girls must be ‘bikini body ready’ before they go on holiday. In 2016 Mayor of London Sadiq Khan moved to ban a Protein World advert that depicted a slender woman asking the question, are you beach body ready? (Woolf, 2016). These expectations create unhealthy pressure on young people and could be a trigger for the individual. Women have so many barriers in regards to travel and so their own bodies should not be added to that list. A way of avoiding the pressure of body image would be to explore options within mountain tourism. Tourists are often attracted to mountain areas for renewal, escape from stress and spiritual wellness (Godde et al., 2000) which are all aims for the person who is suffering from the disorder.
In conclusion not enough research has been conducted in this field of study to establish whether wellness tourism has a positive or negative impact on the mental health and recovery of people suffering with eating disorders. Wellness resorts need to work together with specialists and therapists to decide the most effective way for a resort to operate.
Fullagar, S. (2011). Travelling with and Beyond Depression: Women’s Narratives of Recovery and Identity. [online] Core.ac.uk. Available at: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/143877127.pdf [Accessed 9 May 2019].
Government, O. (2019). Mental Health among millennials at all time high. [online] Open Access Government. Available at: https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/mental-health-among-millennials/53137/ [Accessed 4 May 2019].
Woolf, E. (2016). Why, as a recovering anorexic, I think banning 'beach body ready' ads is dangerous. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/as-a-recovering-anorexic-i-disagree-with-banning-beach-body-ads/ [Accessed 9 May 2019].