Children need to learn not only about how their bodies work, but also how to take care of their health and deal with minor health issues.
Last week, I suggested that self-care should be a strategic priority for Canada’s health care system.
Done well, it can reduce unnecessary demand for professional care while improving outcomes, empowering patients, and increasing personal and community capacity to care.
While self-care is often seen as the self-management of minor illnesses and injuries (coughs and colds, stomach aches, cuts, bumps and bruises, sprains, etc.) and chronic illnesses, it is — or should be — much more than that.
It’s about all the things we do for ourselves and with our families, neighbors and communities that make us healthier, protect us from harm, and even prepare us for the passing of the end of life.
It is important to emphasize that self-care is not simply a matter of education, although obviously education is important.
A 2010 article on self-care in British Medical Journal noted that the literature on health behavior change “shows that merely providing information has little effect. Behavior change often requires multiple interventions that work at multiple levels: the individual, the immediate family or social circle, and society at large.”
A comprehensive strategy should start at school, where children need to learn not only about how their bodies work, but how to take care of their health and competently deal with minor health problems.
While the usual lifestyle issues like diet, physical activity, use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs must be addressed, so too must mental well-being. Given the crucial importance of social connections, children should be supported in developing social skills that will help improve their ability to create and maintain social networks.
In the last years of schooling, they must also learn first aid and CPR, a set of skills that must be maintained over the years through refresher training. After all, although it is not literal self-care, the ability to provide emergency first aid before the professionals arrive is a form of collective self-care.
But since most of us are past childhood, we also need a system of education, training and support that allows adults to gain the skills they need to keep themselves and their families healthy, to cope with minor illnesses and injuries and live well with chronic illnesses. illnesses and disabilities.
They also need to learn when it is appropriate, and indeed necessary, to access the disease management system and work with their primary care team to ensure they receive the preventive services set out in BC’s Lifelong Prevention Program.
With HealthLink BC, British Columbia has implemented an important component of that support system. Available by phone or online 24/7 and in multiple languages, the service can provide you with health information, help you navigate the health system and find health services across the province or connect contact a Registered Nurse, Registered Dietitian, Qualified Practitioner or Pharmacist.
When it comes to chronic illnesses, BC supports an independent program, Self-Management BC, provided by the University of Victoria.
The program serves people with chronic pain, diabetes, cancer and other chronic conditions, and has programs tailored to the Chinese, Indigenous and Punjabi communities.
These programs are taught by trained volunteers and range from one-on-one telephone training to face-to-face and web-based group learning and support. Importantly, BC Self-Management also trains healthcare professionals to use self-management support strategies when interacting with patients.
But self-care can and should go even further. Social prescribing is an approach that refers people in need of social support to community groups and activities.
Learning the skills needed to work with people in mutual support can allow us to work with others in our own communities to make them healthier. The BC Healthy Community initiative is just one of many organizations that support this work in BC
Finally, at the end of life, being supported in preparing for one’s own death, including being supported in talking with family, friends, and caregivers about one’s wishes, is perhaps the best form of self-care.
While not free, when done well, self-care should cost less overall than business as usual, saving costs for the disease care system and improving the health and well-being of the population.
Therefore, to be truly effective, the health system must invest in supporting self-care.
The Doctor. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar in the School of Public Health and Social Policy at the University of Victoria.
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