I’ve been working for StreetGames 18 months now and have been lucky enough to get out and about a lot delivering training, meeting groups within our network, attending regional meetings, festivals and the conference.

It’s become a bit of a standing joke that my introduction is at StreetGames events is always the same “This is Dawn, she does….. Health!”.

The response to this is generally that sweets get swiftly removed from the table tops, same for biscuits, fizzy drinks anything perceived as “bad” by whichever un-expecting group I’m put in front of. I’ve even been known to alter lunch menus, with one group being told that they would have been enjoying Pizza for lunch, but when they realised I’d be there this swiftly got changed to a “healthy” option of dried-out sandwiches and the obligatory fruit selection. I’m surprised I get asked to go anywhere.

So as this scenario repeated itself, time and again I began to give more thought to how health is perceived, in our organisation, the network and beyond.

If you ask someone what makes them healthy, the most common responses are “well I should do more exercise / eat more fruit and veg” or “I need to drink less / smoke less / stop smoking / eat less red meat (or is red meat good for you this week?!). These responses make me sad. Why? Well, to me they seem to be laden down with guilt. I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty! That implies a judgement has been made and I come from a non-judgemental place. Also we know that guilt and shame are some of the biggest barriers to people seeking help and support when they need it. Check out Brenee Browns TED talk for more about this.

I think “health” gets a bad rap because of the guilt and shame responses it can invoke. Imagine now if I asked you instead what makes you happy? Me? Time with my god-daughters, walking our 3 dogs on the beach, feeling grateful for the people I have around me. No shame, no guilt around that question!

When I ask young people what their idea of health is, it tends to reflect the medical model of health; Doctors, Nurses, Hospitals and Treatments, this is correct. However it is equally as important to consider the broader definition of health, this is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity but having good levels of social and mental health as well as good physical health.

We know that young people who aren’t feeling happy or may indeed be experiencing a mental health condition are less likely to go to a GP.  The medical system can be daunting to engage with at any age. Maybe you do the same as me, save a couple of ailments to go to your GP or Practice Nurse with as we feel bad “wasting their time” with things we perceive as trivial.

Maybe that’s why young people are happier talking to a coach or volunteer at a DSC than going to a GP, because they are in an environment where they are accepted and feel connected, the social model of our sessions is more accessible and less threatening perhaps?

So I guess what I’m hoping for by sharing some of these thoughts, is that when you think of me and other “Health” colleagues maybe your first thought won’t necessarily be “hide the goodies”…..we like the goodies too! Maybe it’s a time for a new dawn, one that brings health through happiness and wellbeing to our whole network.

What do you think?

You can contact Dawn Mitchell on dawn.mitchell@streetgamesdsa.org

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