Teaching Health vs. Being Told ... and waiting to become sick!

Afflicted is a new Netflix docuseries, premiered on August 10, that follows seven people who live with chronic illnesses. Anyone who watches this hoping for a health equivalent of Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, former US vice-president Al Gore’s film on climate change, is going to be disappointed.

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The reactions from the participants are available to read at Medium.com.

"We were all told that we would be participating in a project that would show our lives and our struggles with illness through a “compassionate lens.” We participated because our diagnoses are misunderstood and stigmatized. We thought that revealing some of the most intimate moments of our lives would lead to greater public understanding. We hoped that with it might come investment in research to find biomarkers and better treatments. We never fathomed that we were participating in a project that would instead expose us and our communities to further ridicule and disbelief."

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In this fast-moving, reality-TV fuelled society we now all live in we have lost sight of how topsy-turvy our understanding of health issues has become. We can sit on our sofas watching people, do everything humanly possible to find the answers they need. Supported by their friends and families, they strive to live a life which would enable them to be healthy in the future. The participants in Afflicted were far from passive – and yet, for these Herculean efforts, they became subjects of ridicule!

In the words of Paige Wyant, associate chronic illness editor of The Mighty: "I originally thought Afflicted was going to shed light on less-known illnesses and elevate the stories and voices of those who struggle with them”. Instead, she concluded, “the docuseries did the opposite".

Health is overwhelmingly complex. Treatment is organized by symptoms. The healthcare industry is commoditized and reactive, a model constructed to treat diseases after they arise. This is a business which makes fabulous wealth for a few, while accentuating stoking anxiety and fear for the masses. Healthcare as we know it is not sustainable: just because a person is insured, it doesn’t mean he or she can actually afford their doctor, hospital, pharmaceutical, and other medical bills.

I am not sure where I actually learnt about health; no-doubt from many sources, through the combined efforts of my parents, friends, school and television.  A few years ago, my then three year-old daughter asked me what to do if she was ill. When I recall my reply, I realise that the gist of it was to be systematic – something about ‘symptom-identification’. Without real question, I gave the kind of response that our healthcare system reqires. My answer did not encourage her to think about how to be – or stay – healthy. 

We are not being taught how to take responsibility for own health, we are told what to do if – when – we become ill.

Taking personal responsibility for health means finding new answers to these old questions, and also some new ones. As our technological society develops, what impact does this have on our health? What do we mean when we talk about ‘healthy cities’ – particularly where there are rats on the streets and mould in our walls. What do we mean by wellness, when we spend 90% of our time indoors? often in damp and mouldy homes which is threaten our physical and mental wellbeing.

With Afflicted, Netflix missed an opportunity to show the real, unedited experience of people who live and struggling with chronic illness. Instead of exposing reality – the pain, stigma, judgement and disbelief – this docuseries appears to have alienated its participants.

Personally, I would like to express my thanks to the participants - It was a privilege to glimpse into your lives and I wish you well for a healthy future – what ever that means to you. As for the rest of us – we need to do much better if we really want a broken system to change.

#personbeforepatient #whyarewewaitingtobesick 

#netflix #themighty

To read The Mighty's full response, please click here - its a thoughtful and considered piece, which highlights some questions we should have in our mind while watching any portrayal of a personal story


Ruth WilsonComment