Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/15/2022
We all know going to the gym and lifting weights can make us stronger physically. But what if we want to strengthen our mental health, too? What if a mental health gym existed?
Well, what if we told you that they do?
Yes, mental health gyms exist. But what, exactly are they? What should you expect from a mental health gym? Are these new-ew types of gyms legit, or are they just another fitness gimmick?
… Yes, we’re talking about you, Shake Weight®.
Anyway, a mental health gym is what it sounds like — a place to go to exercise your mind.
Our mental health consists of our psychological, social and emotional health and well-being and how we make choices, connect with others and handle stress in everyday life.
While a relatively new concept, a mental health gym can offer support sessions, mindfulness classes and other techniques to help manage mental health.
Some take place in physical spaces, while others offer online sessions or prerecorded materials.
A gym for mental health might be run by therapy professionals, certified yoga instructors or mindfulness practitioners to work on things like stress and burnout.
Many people experience poor mental health like stress. The average stress level of U.S. adults was 5.6 on a scale of one to 10 in 2021, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
Our mental well-being is just as important as our physical fitness. Certain mental health conditions — like depression — can increase the risk for many physical health problems.
The benefits of exercise and physical activity are numerous for mental well-being and emotional health.
Physical activity can also help manage anxiety and depression symptoms by releasing mood-enhancing brain chemicals like endocannabinoids, dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.
While therapy and medication are the two most effective treatments for certain mental health conditions, a mental health gym might focus more on things like stress reduction techniques.
While stress is a normal response, too much stress can play a role in mental health and worsen symptoms of certain disorders.
Some symptoms of stress are similar to symptoms of anxiety, such as:
Body pain or headaches
Loss of sleep
High blood pressure
Mental health clubs might teach mindfulness techniques, meditation, journaling or movement as ways to reduce stress.
You can learn about more ways to reduce stress in our guide on self-care tips for women.
How do you know if going to a mental health gym would be worth it? Fortunately, there are upsides to mental health clubs.
Mental health gyms are a newer idea, but many of the benefits they offer are well-established in mental healthcare.
Things like making sure care is available to a wider umbrella of people, making sure that care is affordable to those people, making sure we’re having more conversations — and having those conversations more often — about mental health and more.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, currently, over 52 million people in the U.S. struggle with mental illnesses.
However, among those with mental health issues, less than half received treatment.
There are many reasons why people don’t receive treatment for mental health.
Significant barriers like cost or lack of insurance and the stigma of discussing mental health issues can keep people from receiving help.
A mental health gym can provide another resource for people to receive different types of treatment, such as mindfulness or stress management.
Mental health clubs could also provide more opportunities to talk to someone.
With an estimated 184 million people having memberships at health clubs in 2019, it’s not a stretch to conclude that many people may frequent gyms more often than they do a healthcare provider.
People may have more opportunities to talk with staff who specialize in mental health issues and coping techniques at a gym for mental health.
While prices vary among mental health professionals, how much therapy costs can get quite expensive — for some, a single session can cost hundreds of dollars.
The cost of medication can also vary with factors like insurance affecting the price someone may pay.
Some mental health gyms offer single or multiple classes for a much lower rate.
On average, the price of a mental health gym visit is less expensive than ongoing therapy.
Of course, prices will vary between locations and the cost can add up if you frequent a mental health gym regularly, but you get the point.
Traditional treatments for mental health conditions are psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both.
A review of 198 studies involving over 15,000 patients found that psychotherapy was effective in reducing symptoms of depression.
However, everyone responds to treatments differently and some may not see improvement in their mental health while on a typical antidepressant such as fluoxetine (Prozac®).
A 2012 review found that 30 percent of patients with treatment-resistant depression didn’t respond to any treatment.
Other treatment options like stress reduction, coping, breathing and relaxation techniques may be more effective for certain people. These techniques are often taught at a mental health gym.
Another barrier to why more people may not seek out treatment is the stigmas surrounding mental health.
From being seen as weak by your peers to the fear of losing your job, mental health has many different negative associations.
Even a review of studies on stigma found that many people still have a negative view of those with mental illness even though they accept the medical nature of a mental health disorder.
These stigmas can have negative effects on people struggling with mental health including:
Reluctance to seek treatment
Lack of understanding
Fewer job or housing opportunities
Insurance that doesn’t fully cover mental health treatment
Gyms are often associated with strength and health, a contrast to the way people may view mental health issues.
A mental health gym focuses on helping people cope with and strengthen their mental health which could challenge stereotypes and negative associations.
A mental health gym could be one option for mental healthcare to learn coping techniques and how to reduce stress from everyday life.
However, while an innovative concept, mental health gyms are not a substitute for therapy or depression and anxiety medication.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression (feeling down or hopeless) or anxiety (excessive worrying) for extended periods, talk to your healthcare provider.
You can also consult with a mental health professional online about your thoughts, feelings, symptoms and more to figure out the best mental health treatment plan for you.