It makes sense that Australia’s wellness tourism industry is booming. One in four Australians report worrying levels of anxiety symptoms and mental stress claims are now the most expensive type of workers’ compensation claim. It is no wonder Australians are looking to heal in their holidays.

However, psychologists are encouraging people to think beyond the health spa if they are serious about addressing workplace burnout, mental health and substance misuse issues.

Wellness tourism boom

Wellness tourism — as distinct from medical tourism — is booming globally. Defined as travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing, the Global Wellness Institute estimates wellness tourism was a $639 billion global market in 2017[i]. It’s growing more than twice as fast as general tourism.

Australia is ranked fourteenth in the world for wellness tourism, and the average annual growth rate from 2015-2017 was 8.3 per cent. It is estimated there were about 10 million wellness trips taken in Australia in 2017.

However, residential program manager at The Buttery Private, Trent Rees, says before booking annual leave, it is important to distinguish between end-of-year stress and serious and debilitating burnout. The Buttery Private is a wellbeing treatment program which is treating an increasing number of people with serious workplace burnout.

Beyond the health spa

“I think it is encouraging that Australians are addressing wellness during their well-earned holidays, which can help prevent more serious mental health conditions from developing. However, people experiencing debilitating burnout need more than more than a holiday,” Mr Rees said.

“People suffering burnout are in a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion because of their exposure to prolonged stress. They feel overwhelmed and drained emotionally and can no longer meet the unrelenting demands they face. The fact is, burnout is a serious condition which can’t be addressed just by a holiday,” he said.

Health retreats differ from evidence-based wellbeing programs such as The Buttery Private, which is a social enterprise that generates income to support the long-running charitable drug and alcohol treatment organisation, The Buttery. Participants take part in and intense four-week psychologically -focused program.

The Buttery Private includes one-on-one and group counselling. It incorporates the principles of Compassionate Focused Therapy, Schema Therapy, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Mr Rees said both employers and employees need to start taking workplace burnout seriously.

“Generally, the longer the symptoms are left before treatment, the more prolonged the recovery period is.

“We’re seeing more and more people come to us with severe burnout caused by checking emails and taking phone calls compulsively. These days, staff are often expected to be ‘on’ 24/7.

“We are also seeing an increase in people with ‘behavioural addictions’ like social media, gaming and pornography addiction. Like alcohol and drug addiction, the underlying causes of these addictions need to be addressed with intensive therapy.  A ‘digital detox’ holiday won’t necessarily act as a circuit-breaker for sustainable wellbeing,” he said.

A depressed and anxious and stressed nation

According to The findings of the Australian Psychological Society’s Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey 2015, 26 per cent of Australians report having moderate to extremely severe depression symptomizes. 26 per cent of Australians also report above normal levels of anxiety symptoms.

Of those reporting extremely severe levels of anxiety symptoms, 66 per cent drink alcohol, 54 per cent gamble, 47 per cent take recreational drugs and 45 per cent smoke cigarettes to manage stress.

A 2014 Price Waterhouse Cooper study reported that mental health conditions cost Australian employers at least $10.9 billion a year.

“The reality is, anxiety, depression, behavioural and substance addiction and serious workplace burnout, require treatment that goes beyond what the average health spa can offer, Mr Rees said.

For more information about the Buttery Private call: 1300 851 695.