Who is Responsible for Your Health?

Who should take responsibility for you health? Sounds like a straightforward question, doesn’t it? But I get so frustrated when complex issues get squashed into simplified, silo-thinking, ready for twitter or media sound bites, or the under-girding of political ideologies.

So….just as the economy is not just made up of the interplay between business and the household, but is in fact far more rich and complex, so too the interplay of responsibility for our own health.

Kate Raworth, really helpfully uses the following diagram to help us rethink the components of the economy. I would like to suggest that we use it to think about health, also.

So…who is responsible for your health and wellbeing?

  1. Your Family/Household
  2. Society/The Commons
  3. The Market
  4. The State
  5. You

In some ways, I feel like all of these are obvious, in their own way, but I will just unpack each one a little bit more.

 

Your Family/Household

We all have needs. We need to know we are provided for (water, food, clothes etc), safe, loved, welcome, encouraged, disciplined and given place to dream and live those dream out. It is the role of our families or the household to which we belong to ensure those things happen as we grow. So much of our ill-health, our brokenness and our long term physical and psychological pain is because these basic needs were never met and left us without a sense of wholeness. The lack of met need, has a huge impact on the development of our personality and character. When we speak of ‘personality disorders’, each type has it’s roots in early life when needs were unmet and therefore parts of the personality remained undeveloped. Let’s face it – no family is perfect! And so, I would argue, that all of us have ‘disordered personalities’, and until we confront the shadow parts of ourselves that are trying to overcome this sense of loss or inadequacy, we continue to project an ego version of ourselves to those around us. We do so to cover over this pain, but facing it head on and allowing ourselves to fess up to our deepest needs, would actually lead to us being a great deal more healthy.

When I work with head teachers and ask them what the biggest need they have in their school, the answer is almost always ‘parenting classes’. However, there are very few providers of this available (due to cuts at a county council level) and the classes available are often very ‘middle class’ in their approach. We need to completely rethink parenting classes in the context of the poverty-truth commission and think about less twee ways to really engage with communities about how we raise happy and healthy kids. The truth that Adverse Childhood Experiences are our greatest public health crisis is not going away. Grasping this nettle is going to be painful but really necessary if we are to breathe health and wellbeing into our society.

 

Society/The Commons

Just as we get our needs met by those in our immediate household, the same is true of society. The way we treat children, the things we expose them to, the way we love them and educate them has a massive impact on their current future health and wellbeing. It’s becoming clear that social media is causing significant harm to our mental health as a nation, particularly our young people, and yet we don’t know how to curb our enthusiasm for all our technology…let alone the rise of the robots…

The commons is fast disappearing, too easily privatized and made available to those who can afford it. How do we safeguard the commons and use it for the benefit of all? What would the Diggers say to us now? The breakdown of our communities, with increasing isolation and loneliness is having a detrimental effect on our wellbeing. What can we do to recover the spaces that belong to us all and help us rediscover the joy of connecting and being together?

The commons is also about our corporate voice. It is only really vast people movements, speaking with one voice that can really cause governments to sit up, listen and take heed of the needs of the people. It is only together, that we will make enough noise to change the health and wellbeing of all of us for the better. How might we speak and act together in a way that will take corporate responsibility for all our health and wellbeing?

 

The Market

Oh the benevolent hand of the market! If only…. But the Market plays an absolutely key (though currently over played) part in our economy and our health and wellbeing. We know for a fact that advertising is deliberately trying to misinform us so that we make irrational decisions. A key component is to make people feel worse about themselves so that they buy things they simply do not need. Supermarkets are being challenged for the ways they deliberately place products and arrange their stores to cause people to buy more unhealthy things and food chains are constantly trying to ‘up-sell’ their unhealthy products and downgrade our health in the process. They evangelize the masses with the idea that we are all free to make our own choices, but if this were so, they would not spend the billions of pounds involved in socially engineering our choices, so that we ‘freely’ choose that which harms us! Oh for a market that might redefine it’s moral code! The market could do SO much good, but unharnessed and left without true accountability or consequences, it serves to damage our health – something it is truly responsible for.

 

The State

The state has a vital role and responsibility in caring for all of our health and when it washes it’s hands of that responsibility or tries to pass it over, we see a massive rise in health inequalities and overall worse-health for all. The NHS in the UK is one of the great triumphs of the state. Providing brilliant healthcare for those who need it whenever they are unwell is truly amazing. Imagine not being able to afford this because it depended on keeping up with insurance bills. It is not uncommon for us to see people in General Practice, who literally cannot afford to feed their families any more and are having to make some incredibly difficult choices (made far worse by long school holidays). Easy to point the finger and start creating a narrative about how it’s “all their fault”, but far harder to hear the truth of what it is really like to be a lived-expert in poverty and the trap it creates and harder still to look to alternative solutions, rather than believe the austerity narrative. There is clear evidence that the more unequal a society becomes, the worse the health outcomes – both physical and mental. When the market is allowed to behave exactly as it wants, we also see the health of people suffer. It is only through the right kind of government that the market can be tamed. It is only with the right kind of legislation that the economy can be skewed towards redistribution and regeneration of the resources needed – this would need to include a radically feminist approach that works on behalf of women, in particular, for equal opportunity, pay and recognition of just how much the ‘household economy’ contributes to the overall wellbeing of the nation. It is only the right kind of leadership that will tackle the inequalities we see and refuse to be wined and dined into maintaining the status quo. It is only brave leadership that will take the ecological issues, like plastic in the oceans, massive over antibiotic use in animals, and ongoing air and river pollution that will give us a healthy planet and human population in the future.

 

You

And where possible, and for some given various health issues, this is more possible for some than others – we do not all have an equal starting place or a level playing field – where we can  – we do have a responsibility to ourselves and to the wider society to care for our own health and wellbeing, so that when the health and social services are needed, they are available for all. It also means using the health and social care services in a way that creates sustainability, being grateful for them and ensuring they and the people who work in them are not abused.

 

It’s complex, but it’s vital that too much emphasis is not put on any one area. We must not play the blame game, especially not towards individuals when we haven’t taken the time to hear their story, nor understood the wider context of the role of the other vital players on the field. Each aspect of the economy plays a massive role in the health and wellbeing of the nation, and it is high time that each plays it’s relevant part to its fullest ability.

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Solutions Focused Thinking in Population Health

My last blog focused on how we can think about solutions instead of problems in the NHS. Well the same is true in thinking about the health of our whole population. Yes there are some problems! We have growing health concerns with obesity and diabetes. We imageshave huge health inequalities. There are major issues with housing, economic policies that are not working for huge swathes of our population, with more people having to use food banks, struggling with fuel poverty, living in damp houses and unable to make ends meet. Yes, our kids are spending more time on screens and less time in activity. Yes, the sugar lobby, alcohol lobby and advertising giants have far too much power. Supermarkets are designed deliberately so that we buy things that are bad for us. And sometimes, we just make poor choices (if you can call them choices, which for some people, they aren’t always) – we do not all live as healthily as we could – we eat the wrong stuff, work highly stressful jobs, and exercise less than we are recommended to. Mental health issues are on the rise, especially for teenagers, due to crazy targets and league tables, with all the pressures they face. We are less happy and more separated than we ever used to be, despite the rise in social media…..(or maybe because of it……)…..Man, I can paint a negative picture – it’s like storm clouds and darkness everywhere……..

 

imagesBut what if it wasn’t that way? What if we got a bit angry about it, but instead of finding someone to blame and pointing the finger; instead of getting all tribal and throwing stones at others, we chose to use our energies creatively to find solutions, to work together and make positive changes?! Let’s put away our pointing fingers and our ranting tongues and let’s work together for a better future for everyone! Doesn’t that sound good?! It’s what we’re trying here in Morecambe Bay, and I’m hoping it spreads like wild fire so that we can become a place where health abounds and beauty surrounds (that’s the motto of this place!). That doesn’t mean we stop speaking truth to power, but we also let our actions (and maybe our votes) speak louder than ever before.

 

imgresWe’re talking together, taking time to dream about what it would be like if we were the healthiest area in the UK. We’re training up many people to host conversations, so that we break down walls and learn to collaborate for the sake of everyone. We’re not just dreaming about physical health, but mental, social and systemic health as well. We’re encouraging those who want to rise up and take some leadership, to be pioneers in the stuff they are passionate about. Even in my little town, we now have a mental health cafe that is literally saving people’s lives, because a lady called Jane wanted to make a difference. We have a cafe for all the people who have circulation problems because one of our nurses wanted to break people’s isolation and improve their healing rates at the same time. imagesWe’ve got a carers cafe, a dementia cafe and will soon have a breathing cafe for those who have severe COPD, sharing ideas and diminishing anxiety. We’ve got exercise classes to help with pain, a community choir, dog poo wardens to help us take more pride when we walk down the street and food banks to help those who can no longer afford to eat.

 

image[1]We have 2000 kids aged 4-11 running a mile a day at school with staggering results for our children here in terms of physical, mental and educational health. We’re hoping over time, this becomes the Morecambe Bay Mile, part of a cultural shift towards being more active. We are working with local chefs and supermarkets to enable people with pre-diabetes or weight struggles to eat more healthily.  We’re choosing to lead by example in the NHS to work well and flourish in our work places. We’ve made a commitment to see the 5 ways to wellbeing in every NHS organisation and we’re hoping many other systems and businesses will follow us in this. We’re finding radical ways to help people who are struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, get free and stay free with amazing results. We’re helping people live well with and beyond cancer.015c74b06779fe8d8496d585fb9865ea We’re changing the way consultations happen in the NHS to enable people to make more informed and better choices about their own health and conditions, so they feel empowered to make changes that work for them rather than beaten up when they go for an appointment! We’re launching the Morecambe Bay Poverty Truth challenge, learning from those who are lived NAWIFUexperts in poverty to help us work together and care better for those most struggling in our society. We’re having difficult conversations about death to help people be prepared for every eventuality.

 

All of this has started in the last year! What else might be possible? What other dreamsimages will be awakened? What other partnerships, collaborations and relationships might be formed? Being all tribal and accusatory of others saps our energy and stops us being creative. Mud slinging and blame will achieve little. We have to work from where we are. We have to build bridges and work together. We have to build a future of positive peace and that means binary thinking is over! The future doesn’t have to be full of doom and gloom. It is alive with hope! What resources might  we find? What talents might we discover? What might we see develop over the next 12 months/years/decades as we look for solutions together for a better future for everybody? Don’t you feel just a little bit excited?

 

 

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