Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Getting Rid of Stig(ma)!

My choice of  title today is so toe-curlingly awful that I'm truly proud!  Even though I'm now waiting for my new motor, this post has nothing with my choice of an economical diesel which would, no doubt, have the gas guzzling Jeremy Clarkson voicing contempt at his shoutiest pitch.  

No, this post was prompted by something that I heard on Radio 4's 'Today' programme the other week about a scheme in Norfolk where people with pre-diabetes participate in a group run by volunteer mentors who have the Type II version of the illness.  It's believed that this approach will be more effective in preventing the condition than sessions run by the nagging army of health professionals in the NHS.

The problem is that some of the advice that we give out seems so straightforward on paper. 'Drink two litres of water a day' we might say to an elderly person who views the giant bottle used as a prop with trepidation.  Their existing number of visits to the loo with limited mobility already seems a  feat of endurance in its own right.  'Give up food containing gluten' the coeliac is advised.  Easy-peasy until they realise that the stuff is a hidden ingredient in half the things in the supermarket.  'Exercise for at least half an hour five times a week'. It seems simple to achieve for the  sprightly young health worker with few responsibilities but not so easy for working mums with school age children.

I often share the fact that I suffer depression with the people that I see in my role in mental health practice and get a good reception as a consequence of doing this.   Let me hasten to add that I don't harp on about the dreadfulness of my sufferings.  This would  be self indulgent and unhelpful.  But what I do try to do is firstly, offer myself as a role model to demonstrate that it is possible to live well with this illness.  'What you, pink coated lady?  But you are so happy!'  The other thing I do is relate my experience of  just how hard it can be to 'make yourself' do some of the things that are known to be beneficial but seem so simple to those who've never experienced for themselves just how debilitating this illness can be.  Getting up, finding things to be happy about, exercising, doing pleasurable things really can be easier said than done but 'bossy nurse' might not appreciate the magnitude of what she is asking.

So, I applaud the scheme in Norwich and anticipate that it will yield benefits.  And maybe if it does work this type of approach can be expanded to prevent and help people live well with a range of other health conditions.  After all, they're the experts.


  1. I'm not disagreeing with you; the idea sounds great; but I think attitude is even more important than personal experience. When I had depression, I would have felt even more confidence in the counsellor if she had had it herself, although she was fabulous anyway and a great help, because she was understanding, supportive and gave practical help that worked. Now I have ME and an occupational terrorist, sorry, therapist I saw was an absolute cow. I think that had she had ME herself she would have still been an absolute cow unless she had changed her attitude.

  2. Agree wholeheartedly with last comment that therapist/mentor attitude is also key. Thanks Attila!