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.

 

 

 

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Solutions Focused Thinking for the NHS

One of the main headlines in the news this morning is that without extra funding, the NHS is in dire straits and patients are beginning to suffer as a result of less financial provision than is needed.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38019771

 

One of the things I have trained in, during my career is Solutions Focused Therapy. It’s a fantastic way of helping someone to open their mind to new possibilities once they become stuck in a rut. So, for example, when someone is struggling with depression, there can be a downward spiral of thoughts that prevents the person being able to see much hope for the future. What SFT does, is to awaken the imagination to some other possibilities. The more colour and variety that can be painted the better. So, if you’re imgresfeeling low/down/hopeless/sad/apathetic/bored/exhausted, I might invite you to imagine what life might be like if you weren’t feeling that way. You might tell me that you’d feel happy and then I would ask you to tell me what ‘happiness’ might be like for you. I’d ask you to describe in as much detail as possible how you would know that you were happy – what would be different? I’d get you to put as much colour on that as possible. And once I understood how you would know you were happy, I would ask how others around you would know – what your partner/children/friends/pets would notice about you…….suddenly your mind is alive with an alternative reality to where you are currently and although things won’t be suddenly better, your mind has been awakened to another way of being!  And that brings a beautiful thing – it brings possible solutions to the problem.

 

imgresThere is no doubting that the problems in the NHS are vast. One of the things I have found is that if you try and enable someone to think about the solutions without allowing them to tel you what the problems are, you won’t get very far. A certain amount of catharsis and expression of the issues is important. So here goes: here is a picture of the problems the NHS faces (and these have already been stated many times over, but let’s just be clear):

 

imgresThe NHS is under-funded. Cuts to other services, like social care have also had a massive impact on the NHS as a system being able to work and targets are being missed as a result. People are living longer and this means more complex health problems and a rise in dementia. There is more obesity and diabetes and this has a huge impact in the cost of healthcare. The way the NHS is funded is ludicrous and puts parts of the system that should be working collaboratively in direct competition with each other. Teams across the NHS are clumsy and clunky with little ability to work smartly due to constraints of historic ways things were set up. Demand and expectation are extremely high and yet there are multiple missed appointments. And I could go on!

 

BUT we CANNOT stay on the merry-go-round of problems. We cannot continue to simply imgreseat moany pie together and complain about the issues. Throwing mud and finger pointing, blaming everybody else but ourselves will solve nothing. The awful tribalism and over politicization of the NHS is preventing us from finding a way forward. What might health and social care in this country be like if open our mind to new possibilities? What if we stopped focusing on all the problems and dreamed of how things might be in 5, 10, 50, 100 years time? We’ve been doing this in Morecambe Bay and we’re moving from not only dreaming but to doing something different!

 

imagesWe’re working with our communities to help us all live more healthy lives, thinking about health as a social movement. 97% of all health monies are spent once people are ill. We’re taking prevention seriously! We are breaking down walls between our organisations and sharing our budgets. We’re building relationships between clinicians and managers across many diving lines. We’re collaborating to share our resources and using our budgets in a way that makes sense for our communities. We’re unashamedly talking a new language of love, building trust and establishing infrastructures of positive peace. We’ve worked out where we are being inefficient and sharing our conundrums with our communities (we do actually have to be responsible about what we spend – the NHS is not carte blanche). We’re working out how to work differently and more smartly. We’re sorting out our IT. We’re redesigning care so it makes more sense for our patients. We’re working on our consultation and communication skills. We’re being more proactive in getting positive messages out there. We’re building for the next 100+ years not just the next political cycle. This is better care together!imgres

 

At this point in time, it is vital that our collaborative efforts are not allowed to fail. We are working hard at so many levels. We are doing all that is being asked of us. We are playing ball. Now we need the government to put their money where their mouth is. Holding the funding as it is will see us and many other areas trying to do the same thing fail in the process and this would be a great tragedy. The solutions, of which there are many, will be in jeopardy. But this is not the time to lose hope. This is the time for us all to make good the dreams we hold for the future.

 

 

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Learning to Celebrate Success

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Reconnecting Clinicians to Healing

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Love – It’s a Two Way Street

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