Therapy is the New Six Pack: How Mental Health Became Mainstream


Attitudes towards mental health have shifted. Conversations once considered taboo, are now part of everyday popular culture. More Brits than ever are seeking treatment for a variety of issues – but what has driven this widespread acceptance of therapy?

Therapists are the fabric of our society, especially during these unprecedented times. Throughout 2020, record numbers of children and adults sought NHS services for problems such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders, or because they experienced a mental health crisis.

Between April and December 2020, 372,438 under-18s were referred for mental health help, the most recorded, and 28% more than the 292,212 referred during the same period in 2019. The Royal College of Psychiatrists analysed NHS and Office for National Statistics data, they highlighted that increased demand means NHS services are struggling to cope. 

The pandemic has upended our lives, with many of us reporting feeling lonely, anxious, stressed, and depressed. The prolonged social isolation, instability, and uncertainty Covid has thrust upon us has only exacerbated the country’s ongoing mental health crisis. 

How Did Therapy Become King?

In 2014 therapy was quickly becoming more popular. At the time, over a quarter (28%) of people in the UK consulted a counsellor or psychotherapist, compared to just one in five people four years earlier. 

By 2019, there were almost half a million more referrals (1.6 million in total) for NHS talking therapies – if the figures for private therapy were included, it would be much higher. Perhaps, more of the population than ever before needed access to therapeutic treatments, but it should be acknowledged that British attitudes towards mental health have been positively changing for some time, which has resulted in more people than ever recognising they need help. 

Historically, we are a nation that shuns openness, the very thought of exposing our vulnerabilities used to send a shiver down our spines; and for some, still will. Our cultural tendency to hide behind a collective stiff upper lip is slipping away bit by bit, thankfully. Today, there is a greater willingness to talk, and a lot of us are realising the impact, and benefits, of doing so. 

Mental health issues have always existed, but there is a greater awareness and understanding now. Thanks to social media, grassroots organisations, and celebrities talking about their own struggles – millions of people feel seen, heard, and understood. The message very much is, you’re not alone. This is paramount given that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in our lifetime.

Younger generations are at the forefront of this meaningful change; education has led to their refusal to carry forward inherited stigma and shame. Widespread recognition that mental health is just as important as physical health has changed the discussion forever. 

Therapy isn’t new, of course, it’s long been known by professionals that therapy, of all forms, can be life-changing. The public’s perception of what it means to be someone in therapy, however, is unrecognisable.  Mainstream amplification of mental health has led to a greater understanding of the struggles many of us face. 

Generally, our newfound open acceptance that needing and seeking therapy isn’t unusual has helped inform public opinion and move on discourse leaps and bounds. Just like a bodybuilder needs to put in work to upkeep their six-pack, people struggling with their mental health will often need to dedicate time towards achieving recovery. 

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