Experiences with the healthcare system can be so varied. Often, a positive experience with healthcare is hinged on the ability of a health professional to communicate effectively. At this Global Ideas Lab, we were challenged by the proposition that our communication in healthcare can actually be harmful.
Receiving a diagnosis is often confronting. It can challenge a person’s autonomy, dignity and hope. A truly excellent practitioner not only prioritises the physical needs of the patient, but encourages them to feel human, to make their own decisions and to see a future.
At this Lab, Honor Eastly discussed her experiences in the mental health system, as a “professional feeler of feelings” and mental health advocate. Nicholas Fava spoke to his work with the I CAN Network and promoting individual strengths of those on the Autism Spectrum.
These deeply personal narratives were tied together around a central human theme – that our medicalised society’s desire to categorise and label is causing us all to lose sight of the individual who happens to have a health issue.
Honor spoke about how suddenly, with a diagnosis, her feelings were channelled through a lens to become a set of symptoms rather than her experienced life.
Historically, the term ‘autism’ has carried negative connotations. Nick spoke about reframing our thinking to viewing “being on the spectrum” as just another experience of the world, with many positive attributes. This change of mindset can dramatically affect the self-esteem, confidence and behaviour of those with autism – and this has a definitive impact on health.
How we communicate (the language we use) informs the perceptions people have of themselves – and how they believe others perceive them. Changing our language will have enormous impact, especially in traditionally stigmatised areas of health such as mental health and obesity. Changing the conversation at all levels, between practitioners, policy makers, politicians and the public alike, will promote illness or disability as an individual experience and not a defining identity.
Lewis Fry – Editor-in-Chief, Australian Medical Student Journal
This was the first Global Ideas Lab recorded as a podcast. You can listen to it via Soundcloud below.