Posts Tagged ‘healthy privilege’

Health is NOT a Virtue

I think it is safe to say that my most popular posts since I began writing were the series I put together about what health stigma and healthy privilege are–and how seriously they affect us.  I still stand by the ideas I shared in that series.  Recently, as I have talked to clients, and I have participated in conversations online, I have realized that there is an issue that is directly linked to healthy privilege and health stigma that I didn’t explicitly address in my earlier posts.  And it is this:

Having the privilege of health is not reflective of your virtue as a person or the value of your choices.

Let me be clear about this.  I certainly believe that we have the ability to make healthy choices.  We can strive for good food, rest, and movement.  We can choose relationships that support us instead of relationships that tear us down.  We can seek appropriate physical and mental health care to be sure that we stay as healthy as possible.  We can make healthy choices.  But those healthy choices do not guarantee our health.

We live in a culture that is very focused on individual control.  We want to believe that good choices lead to good outcomes.  And that means that if you struggle with health challenges–emotional or physical–you must not have made good health choices.  Right?

WRONG.

This unspoken idea that good health is a reward for healthy choices is one of the pillars that supports the ongoing stigma of health challenges.  The belief that good health is the result of good choices is a reason that so many people feel blamed or shamed for the illnesses they live through.

The truth is, that no one is guaranteed good health.  Athletes in peak condition die of undetected heart conditions. People who have eaten perfectly their whole lives get cancer.  People with great mental attitudes struggle with depression or anxiety. People with strong work ethics get multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis.  Making healthy choices certainly improves our odds of experiencing health in life.  But we don’t get a guarantee.

We would like a guarantee.  We want to feel that good is rewarded.  We want to believe that our choices ultimately control our experiences.  But we live in a world where our genes, our environment, and sometimes, just our spin of the luck wheel determine our experience.  And I think that our society sometimes takes that wish for a guarantee and uses it to shame and blame people who are facing health challenges.  Because if other people can make healthy choices and still face illness, then we might be at risk for illness too.  Because we want to deny the fact that sometimes good health is good luck.

Since this lightbulb went on, I have seen this attitude in so many places.  And I think that we need to call it out.  Health is a goal.  It is a gift.  But health is not a virtue.  

Let’s have that conversation.

Oh–and just to have some outside perspective, check out this long list of “Virtues of Moral Personhood (note that health isn’t on there anywhere):”

Advertisements

Privilege and Stigma in Health: Revisited

Last year, I wrote a series of posts about the idea of healthy privilege and health stigma. My definitions of these concepts were based on the work of others before me, such as Peggy McIntosh and Kendall Clark. You are welcome to go back to the original posts and read them, but I’ll share the definitions again for you.

health stigma

The feelings of shame, isolation, self-blame and invisibility that many people facing physical or mental illness feel when others make assumptions or judgments about their ability, willpower, character, motivation, or work ethic (to name a few)–Ann Becker-Schutte’s personal & professional experiences

healthy privilege

1. A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by healthy persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities. b. A special advantage or benefit of healthy persons; explained by reference to divine dispensations, natural advantages, gifts of fortune, genetic endowments, social relations, etc.
2. A privileged position; the possession of an advantage healthy persons enjoy over persons with illness.
3. The special right or immunity attaching to healthy persons as a social relation; prerogative.

In addition to the formal definition, I would add this:
Healthy people enjoy the privilege of bodies that work in the ways that they expect, free from regular pain or suffering, without extraordinary effort. Healthy privilege allows healthy people to assume that their experience is “normal,” and to be unaware that coping strategies that work for them will not work for someone dealing with illness.

If you’re familiar with the definitions, thanks for your patience in rereading them. I’ve been thinking about this issue again this week. These concepts have been on my mind again because I’m hearing things from my clients, and in the communities where I participate, the remind me that health stigma and healthy privilege still alive and kicking.

I wrote about another aspect of this issue a few weeks back, when I talked about shame and patient blaming in healthcare. And just last night, during a discussion on Twitter, a patient shared this experience:

@MedImprovePro: Cancer still stigmatized. BRCA+, but told by co-worker nurse ‘you wished that on yourself’.

I was floored. Absolutely stunned. How on earth is it possible that we still have people, let alone healthcare providers–who should damn well know better, who believe that cancer is something that we can “wish upon ourselves.” And why on earth would anyone make that choice?

I should know better than this. I hear my clients tell me about the shaming and blaming they face both in and out of doctors’ offices on a regular basis. I hear about the blatant discrimination against folks with all kinds of diagnoses, both physical and brain-based. I know this is out there.

But I believe that we can do better than this. So, if you’re reading this post, I hope you share it. And I hope that, as you share it, you look at one step you can take to educate others about health, health stigma, & healthy privilege. Because it is going to require all of us taking action to build and generate change.

davidwcovington.com

Beyond Behavioral Health

hcldr

Healthcare Leadership Blog

Figuring. Shit. Out.

life seems to dish it out. i seem to write about it.

wellfesto

hacking health, designing life

Just Talking Podcast

A free-flowing conversation with purpose. There's no pressure, we're Just Talking

A Consequence of Hypoglycemia.

What good is an incurable disease if you can’t share it with the rest of the world.

inDpendence

Sometimes Diabetes Takes Center Stage

regrounding

of chemo, cancer and facing life head-on

Dr Catherine Rose

Inspiring Hope

Telling Knots

About 30% of people diagnosed with breast cancer at any stage will develop distal metastasis. I am one.

Ann Becker-Schutte, Ph.D.

Help at the Intersection of Physical and Emotional Health

eatbreatherun

Eating, Running & Fighting Against Lung Cancer

Is it Possible?

Making it Possible in 10 steps or less!

Warm Southern Breeze

"... there is no such thing as nothing."

health communication source

curating the people & organizations that make health com happen

The Musings of a Cancer Research Advocate

It's All About the Evidence...

shadow7788

The greatest WordPress.com site in all the land!

Tonya Miles, PsyD

Mental Health Matters

The Pollock Group

Professional Psychology Services

Voice in Recovery (ViR)™

Prevention, Advocacy, Intervention, Recovery (PAIR)™