Jos Porter, Health Services Coordinator at Head & Hands
When we talk about health, thoughts of how many colds we’ve had this year or how many cigarettes we smoked today often come to mind. But health applies to so much more than our bodies. It is our overall well-being: physical, emotional, and mental. Good health has as much to do with how we feel about ourselves and how we live in the world as it does with our vitamin intake. So what is radical health? Well, if radical means “root” and health means “whole,” radical health is a way of looking holistically at the root causes of illness and striving for collective human wellness.
A common criticism of Western medicine is that it’s based on treating symptoms and not addressing root causes. It’s faster, easier, and more lucrative for doctors to prescribe you pills for your headaches than it is for them to sit down and have a conversation with you about what might be causing them. Most doctors don’t have time to talk to you about your underpaid job, relationship issues, and any kind of discrimination you may experience that could contribute to stress levels. The health care system treats patients enough to send them home or back to work, but if anything it reinforces the distinctions and pressures that destroy people’s health in the first place.
Factors such as socioeconomic status, education, race, gender, and (dis)ability influence both a person’s health and their access to appropriate health care. Privileges and opportunities impact our overall well-being, as do discrimination and hardships. Not everyone has equal access to quality health care and resources, such as a family doctor, healthy food, therapy, birth control, and education. In theory, all Canadians should have health care, but the quality of care is influenced greatly by the region in which you live. In the last several years in Québec we have watched the introduction of the two-tiered medical system (a public-private hybrid) erode socialized health care; it privileges the wealthy who can buy their way out of waiting lists and pay for better care, all the while tempting medical professionals out of the public sphere and leaving the rest of us with scanter resources.
We can all look at health more globally. This includes looking at both one’s overall health as an individual and the systemic factors that shape people’s health. Inform yourself. Challenge privileged notions of health care access. Don’t assume that we’re all treated the same way. Lobby for things like alternative health insurance and better public care. Radical health is about creating positive change through personal empowerment, politically contextualizing health, and removing the barriers between people and their needs as they choose to define them.