Our Nation’s Biggest Public Health Problem

The subject of this blog is sensitive and difficult. It may stir up some difficult issues or memories for you, as you read. If this happens, then please take time to seek the help you need. I believe this blog and ones to follow might be some of the most important I have written to date.

 

UnknownI am currently reading a phenomenal book, sent to me in the post, by a dear friend of mine, who is a trained counsellor and knowing the work I do, felt that I should read it also. The book is called “The Body Keeps the Score” by the eminent Psychiatrist, Bessel Van Der Kolk. In my humble opinion, it should be compulsory reading for every person training in any of the clinical specialities, including public health and for those working in education. The book focusses on the detailed research and work done by Van Der Kolk and others at Harvard over the last 30 years in the whole area of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), or “Disorders of Extreme Stress, Not Otherwise Specified” (DESNOS). It is not a part of our vocabulary, unfortunately, because even now, after a huge evidence base and many studies, there still remains no such psychiatric diagnosis. However, it is a hidden epidemic affecting huge numbers of our population and is the root of many of our major public health issues. So what causes this problem and just how wide spread is it? The evidence shows so strongly that the cause of CPTSD or DESNOS is Adverse Childhood Experiences, which we more starkly call Child Abuse.

 

Child abuse falls into four main categories: Physical abuse, Sexual Abuse, Verbal Abuse and Emotional abuse – usually in the form of neglect. 10% of children suffer regular verbal abuse. 25% suffer regular physical abuse. 28% of women and 16% of men have suffered sexual abuse. 16% regularly watch domestic violence. 87% of all those who suffer one type of abuse, are also abused in other ways. Each of these forms of abuseUnknown lead to major health problems later in life and studies are showing that it is not just mental health issues (many of which lead to inappropriate diagnoses like Borderline Personality Disorder or Bipolar Disorder and ineffective treatments) but also major physical health problems. Those who have been abused are twice as likely than others to develop cancer and four times as likely to have emphysema. The more difficult a person’s experiences, the higher the chance of developing heart, liver or lung disease at an early earlier age with much higher chances of taking more health risks with smoking, becoming overweight or having multiple sexual partners. There is good evidence to suggest a link with autoimmune diseases, such a lupus, and other complex conditions like chronic pain, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. The body cannot be separated from the mind and literally keeps the score of the internalised turmoil. So, even if the abuse happens before memories are formed, or our minds manage to forget or block out what has happened, the body simply cannot forget and sometime and in someway, the damage will show itself. Studies show that the overall cost of this appalling reality far exceed those of cancer or heart disease. In fact, eradicating child abuse would cut depression rates by over 50%, alcoholism by 66% and suicide, IV drug use and domestic violence by 75%. Antidepressants and antipsychotics are now some of our largest prescribing costs. We know this, but are doing very little about it. Perhaps it feels too big. Perhaps we don’t want to face the demons involved. Instead, we are numbing the problem, trying desperately to get people to be just functional enough to keep on serving the needs of our economic system, but we are not facing up to or dealing with this horrific problem, nor its true cost.

 

What can be done in the face of such evil? How can we develop aimages culture of compassion and restorative justice in which we can find a new way through for humanity? It isn’t getting any better. It is just as widespread and far reaching in its consequences as it was a generation ago. Is it possible for us to face up to the startling reality we face? Van der Kolk offers much hope, but it is not within the gift of the health service and social services to tackle this alone. If we are to take this issue seriously, we must embrace what Bessel refers to (at the end of chapter 2) as four fundamental truths:

 

  1. Our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another. Restoring relationships and community is central to restoring wellbeing.
  2. Language gives us the power to change ourselves and others by communicating our experiences, helping us to define what we know and to find a common sense of meaning.
  3. We have the ability to regulate our own physiology, including some of the so-called involuntary functions of the body and brain, through simple activities such as breathing, moving and touching – (learning to be present in our own bodies is a vital way of separating out the memories of the past which can overwhelm us at times).
  4. We can change social conditions to create environments in which children and adults can feel safe and where they can thrive.

images-1People can be healed of trauma. We need this at both an individual and corporate level. We have become so focussed on saving money, on quick fixes to ensure the NHS and Social Care System can survive, but we are ignoring the root cause of many of our ill health issues. If we are willing to face up to the truth of child abuse in our society and its long lasting and far reaching impact on overall health and wellbeing, then we might just be able to find a way through to healing and restoration of what has become an extremely broken society. In the blogs that follow, I will look at some of the ways we might find a way through this crisis of epidemic proportions. One thing we must face straight away is that we are spending our resources in the wrong places and are focussing our attention in the wrong areas. We must protect our children and help people learn how to be good parents. We must strengthen our school teachers and sense of community. We must invest in the first five years of life far more than we are doing so currently, especially those key first 12 months of bonding and attachment. Together, if we want to, with love, care, bravery and determination, we can change the future. There is hope. There is healing. Our systems are not yet designed to cope with this, but we must speak the unspeakable, break the silence and face up to the truth. The truth will set us free and enable us to develop the kind of wellbeing that every human being should be able to live within.

 

 

 

Share This:

We Need to Be Ambidextrous in Solving our Health and Social Care Conundrum

UnknownAll this week on the BBC, there has been a focus on the NHS and the crisis we are in – don’t panic Mr Mainwaring…..There is a heady mix of opinions being thrown around – Question Time became quite a furore of ideas and thoughts last night – not enough beds, not enough staff, not enough money, too much money, too many patients, too many wasted appointments, too many malingerers, too many ill people, too many old people, too many managers, too many drugs, too many drunkards, disappointed clinicians, disappointed patients, disappointed MPs, a disappointed health secretary – what are we to think and what are we to do?

 

imgresWe love the NHS because it speaks something to us about our togetherness and our commitment to health justice for all. This circular argument about money is the wrong conversation and it is beginning to have a very nasty undertone about who we might be able to blame and scapegoat in order to solve the mess we are in. Let’s be very clear. The NHS is NOT in crisis because of refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants or health tourists. I’m going to stick my neck out here – it isn’t even the fault of the current and previous health secretaries, though it would be easy to play the blame game that way too. The NHS is in crisis, because the entire Western World is in crisis! Our economic systems are broken and our political systems are pretty defunct. We have built our nation state on the foundations of empire. We have built our economy on conquest and slavery and have used debt, violence and law to keep control….but everything is shaking.

 

There are some difficult truths for us to face up to. Are we brave enough to accept that things cannot remain as they are? Are we imagesLYB84K5V.jpgbrave enough to rewire our brains, realign our values and reimagine a different way of being together? If we accept that things simply cannot remain as they are, might we instead find one another in fresh ways and discover new ways of being in which we’re not always chasing the money, with all its strings attached, but choosing something altogether more life giving?

 

images3W7WQ07WI would suggest we need two things (an ambidextrous approach) – both of which are already happening, we just need to recognise them, fan the flames and watch the new emerge, whilst Rome burns around us.

 

The first thing emerging is a grass roots people movement around health, wellbeing and a kinder society. Think of this as the left hand. We must take a left handed approach to really listen to and engage with our communities. Many people are waking up to the fact that we are eating in ways that are unnatural and completely unhealthy for the human being. Global corporations like GSK have shoved Lucozade and Ribena down our throats and then very kindly provided the medication for the diabetes we have developed. Enough! Thankfully, peopleimagesOP6FM73O.jpg are beginning to think about how we are living and making a change. It’s a tough reality, but there is personal and corporate responsibility that we need to take. We cannot keep shoving poison into our bodies or treating them badly and expect that we will be well, or that we will be able to afford the drugs to fix us. Social movements are beginning to emerge and we need to be a part of them. Together, we can! Together we can cause corporations to change their behaviour and act in accordance with what is right, true, just, kind and loving. We can also choose to take responsibility for what we buy and how much exercise we do. Here in Morecambe Bay we are launching the Morecambe Bay Mile, encouraging everyone to move a mile a day without transport! We’re also working with our communities around diet. We’re also connecting with amazing people doing amazing things and seeing just how much kindness and goodness there is in the communities around us. Our happiness is directly linked to the quality and depth of our friendships. People being together and facing up to the issues together is absolutely key to our long term health.

 

imagesBCV6CE7Y.jpgSecondly, we must stop serving the system, re-humanise it, call it in line and cause it to serve the needs of the people and the planet (the right handed approach). Those in the health and social care system must refuse to be bullied by the powers into ways of behaving, stop thinking they have the answers and therefore coming up with another new scheme to do to people and be willing to listen to and work with the emerging social movements. This will allow us to see a society that is much more well and therefore in need of less care. But where care is needed, we have to accept that we have allowed ourselves to be competitive rather than collaborative, hierarchical instead of co-operative and our own attitudes and behaviours are stopping us from giving the compassionate care we long to deliver. We cannot make excuses. We must let go of self-protectionism. We must be willing to change the way we think and behave, breaking down walls, letting go of suspicion and cutting through red tape so that we provide the care which we can. This is happening, here in Morecambe Bay – but it’s not a quick thing. We are rediscovering the power of relationship and daring to make some bold steps into delivering care very differently – but for those of you outside the system, please understand, it takes time and feels pretty scary!

 

I believe it is possible for the NHS and Social Care System to be radically transformed at this time. It might enable us to model something for the rest of the world. That in our time of crisis, we did not sell out to the lie that the only way ahead was privatisation and insurance – (in our hearts, we know this isn’t fair and it doesn’t work for everyone). No – instead we chose to work with a grass roots people movement, calling for us all to beuntitled.png more healthy and well and we changed our ways of working to be more collaborative and kind. It is this ambidextrous approach to health and wellbeing, in which a heady mix of an invigorated people movement and a reorientated system working together for the good of everyone everywhere, might breathe hope into other parts of the world that out of the old can come something new. Maybe it is just possible that healthcare can be provided for everyone everywhere when people are brave enough to let go of old ways, embrace the brokenness of our reality and find a new way through together.

 

untitled.pngI’m telling you – it is nearly Spring time and the bulbs are beginning to break through. Can you smell the scent of something new emerging? Those rhizomal roots of the snowdrops – that interconnected underground network that shoots up its flowers, is telling us the winter of discontent is over. It’s time to turn off the radio, dial down the meta narrative of fear and instead, put on love, hope and faith, find each other, change our ways of working and step into the future we know our hearts yearn for.

Share This:

Previous 10 Posts

Think About This

This is just a short blog, made of a few statements.   Our tax burden is higher than it has ever been. We continue to cut public services deeply. We are told we are doing this to plug the gap in our public finances and pay off our debts. However, the debt we are in [Continue Reading …]

Doing the Impossible – Turning the Tide!

It’s time to do the impossible. It’s time to turn the tide. In my last blog, I talked about the exponential potential of what could be possible if clinicians worked together in a more collaborative way. However, far more can be achieved if we work together in and with our communities to create a social [Continue Reading …]

A Collaborative Clinical Community 

*Warning – this blog contains swear words (not that I’m usually a potty mouth!) This last week we had a gathering of clinical leaders around Morecambe Bay – Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Health Visitors, Midwives, Doctors, Surgeons, Physiotherapists, Pharmacists etc. We were gathered from across primary and secondary care to look together at the financial deficit [Continue Reading …]

How To Forgive

Many of us feel that forgiveness is a good idea or it is something we would like to do, but when it comes to actually forgiving someone, it can be hard to know how to go about it. In my last vlog I talked about the extraordinary and healing power of forgiveness and how it [Continue Reading …]

The Extraordinary (Healing) Power of Forgiveness

There are many times when people come to see me, as a GP, and I cannot find a physical cause for their pain. There are various other conditions when people have what we call “medically unexplained symptoms”. For others, they can get stuck in a rut with their mental health and feel unable to get [Continue Reading …]

A Healthier Story

So, we start 2017 with General Practice “skating on thin ice”, the NHS as a whole “creaking on the edge” and major concerns over funding and waiting times. Why don’t we step outside of that rather repetitive and boring story, and find a new one together – one that resonates far more with the ancient [Continue Reading …]

Making Healthy Choices for the New Year!

So……a new year…..some new resolutions? How about some health resolutions? Given the health crisis we are facing, if you could change one thing over the next 6 months, what would that be? And if you did change something, how would you know it was being beneficial? What would you notice? What would others notice? How [Continue Reading …]

Wake Up to Our Health Crisis

It’s all over our news today – our health is in a real mess, and this is our wake-up call moment – we really do need to take it seriously. It’s all very well us protesting about the under-funding and under-recruitment in our NHS (and we are right to do so), but we can no [Continue Reading …]