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The health system is being forced to think about health differently and the current health system reforms will (hopefully) move us away from a system that is not working, toward one that works a bit better. Quite frankly even a little bit better would be amazing – a whole heap better…well, that might just be aspirational at this point in time.

So the system is rethinking itself. What about you? Do you need to rethink what health means?

If you were raised in this country, or in another western society, then you will have a way of thinking about health that was shaped by the society you grew up in. In Aotearoa (previously known as New Zealand, previous to that known as Aotearoa…I know it’s hard to keep up) most of us know about health in terms of going to the doctor when we are not well. Health is about things happening to our bodies, pain, or injury, or things not working like they should. When you experience these things you go to the doctor and get a treatment, perhaps a surgery, to make those things go away. It’s a simplistic view, but that is essentially health.

What if health were about being well? Spending time and energy and treatments on being as well as we want to be. Being happy, feeling good about ourselves, establishing and maintaining good relationships, connecting with good people and to places we love.

And also, making sure our bodies work well and are strong. There is a school of thought that suggests that what we focus on becomes our reality. So perhaps because the health system has had a focus on illness, we only think about health in that way, so illness wins and wellness doesn’t exist. Let’s roll with the theory that what we focus on becomes reality.

Imagine if our health system supported us to build relationships, manage those relationships and navigate hard things like conflict conversations.

If it helped us to heal from trauma, taught us to understand our emotions and the effect they have on our bodies and minds. If it helped us to identify pathways to joy and peace. I know, this sounds so ‘out there’ doesn’t it…

Change is hard. It’s uncomfortable and it challenges parts of ourselves we don’t even know we have. But if we don’t change, we get what we have always had. And in health, that is a system that doesn’t work for most people and gives more access, more care, more understanding, more services and more ‘health’ to people who fit nicely into society’s definition of normal. So if change is what is required to have good health – yes – the system must change, and dramatically so, for the benefit of all people who inhabit this land on which we reside. BUT, we too must change. And therefore we have to be ready to feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable in that change process.

So…define what health means to you. Like now. Write it on a piece of paper, record it on your phone, say it out loud to the wall…but get clear on what you want health to mean in your world for you and your family, loved ones, friends.

Once you know that, create some steps to help you get there. It’s one thing to write something down or know something. It’s quite another to put it into action and do it. (Side note to the health system: how are you actually going to make the words in the reform papers actually happen??)

Do the little easy things first, so you get some gains and feel good about them. Then get really uncomfortable and try some bigger stuff. Try doing something to be well, instead of only doing something when you get a symptom or a sign that says things aren’t right.

The health system will not change without strong leadership and thinking that continues to push the boundaries of normal and business as usual.

In the same way you could lead the way in thinking and doing health differently for your whanau, friends or workmates. Change is never smooth so don’t expect the magic to happen overnight and all your wellness dreams to come true across a green field of roses…but one thing is for sure, if you take a step it can only lead to another, and another and another. Take a leap. The health system is…regardless of whether those within it want to or not. Our health system is currently shite (am I allowed to say that? I’m not sure it’s an actual word in the English dictionary, so it can’t be a swear word if it doesn’t exist right?!). Don’t let the system you grew up with shape your reality – coz your reality and your future should be the other end of the spectrum from shite…in my humble opinion

(Thanks for your time, some of you have heard me say much of this before…there is more to come. Part 2 is about how to think differently about doctors.)

Dr Anna Rolleston

Dr Anne Rolleston, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngai Te Rangi, Ngāti Pukenga, Director of the Centre for Health in Tauranga.

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