Why are we waiting to be sick?


This week, a film titled ‘The Indoor Generation’ has been circulating on social media. The film [made by a commercial company] reports that, as a society, we spend 90% of our time indoors, often in damp and mouldy homes which threaten our physical and mental wellbeing.

Sadly the stories in this film are true, albeit not a new discovery

The term ‘nature-deficit’ was coined by the American children’s rights advocate, Richard Louv. His work directly links an absence of nature — too much time spent indoors — to some disturbing trends in childhood health. Children and adults who spend little time outside are at risk of myriad chronic health problems, including obesity, attention disorders and depression.

The film raises many important points. Diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and depression are associated with a sedentary indoor lifestyle.

The long overdue response, the film-makers suggest, is to ‘re-think how we live indoors’. First, we should aspire to healthier homes by tackling poor interior air quality — a factor in “a whole range of illnesses from headaches and sore eyes to allergies, asthma — and worse!”

Better interior space is a start, but heathier buildings will not change our habits and behaviours. That alone won’t change our personal attitudes, in particular our individual relationship with our health, and more generally to living outdoors. This is something we need to do ourselves. We can and should do more to prevent the preventable, especially in respect of costly health conditions.

Many societal norms prevent us spending more time outside. Too often, being outdoors is a scheduled activity, an allocation of time which itself competes for time against the other demands, tensions, trauma and complexity of modern lives. As individuals we need to find ways to help ourselves, and our children, to make friends with fresh air.

I say this to as a Brit, who now lives in the Netherlands — a country ranked 6th in the Global Happiness Index for two years in a row. Here, it’s easier to feel optimistic about the way most people live. The Netherlands counts some 20,000 kilometres of bicycle lanes, while playgrounds on every second corner, attest to a public appetite to embrace the changeable weather, a good diet and the abundance of flowers.

This is a place where my own health, and the health of my children, could conceivably satisfy the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of health — that is, a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. That said, while my life in Amsterdam encourages a better balance of indoor/outdoor life, habitat is only one factor in the larger equation of good health. Health is overwhelmingly complex. It’s a multi-faceted challenge: economically, cognitively, emotionally & socially. Consequently, the health industry is complicated too. Provision of care and medicine has become commoditized and reactive. The prevailing model treats diseases after they arise, making fabulous wealth for the few and accentuating anxiety and fear for the masses.

Most of our actions, choices and health decisions are fuelled by the myth that doctors will cure us. Perhaps unwittingly, we assume that all conditions are tractable, or more medicines will be developed to treat all illnesses. The effect of these assumptions is that we are incentivized to be sick; we wait to be sick — lacking any agency to take personal responsibility for our own health.

Creating healthy homes is a good place to start. At the same time, we also need to find ways to overcome the personal obstacles to looking after ourselves. We need to understand and pre-empt the trauma and tensions in our lives, which prevent each of us preventing the preventable. We need to be people before we become patients.

So let’s go outside, breathe fresh air, look at the sky and give our bodies a chance. Life outdoors helps not only to strengthen our immune systems, but also to calm our minds. Your body will thank you for it later.

#personbeforepatient — a social health movement.

How might we work together to create a zero-cost health system, given that the current symptom-led sickness care is too costly for future generations to sustain?

So, please let me ask you … what do the words person before patient mean to you? please share your answer by email: ruth@personbeforepatient.org or via the contact page, thank you.

Imagery: © Kaelan Hollon, 2018

Disclaimer: Person Before Patient is an independent social health movement. No funding is recieved from, or affliations to the individuals and/or the organisations referenced in this post

Ruth WilsonComment