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  • Writer's picture Bowie Matteson

The Role of Community in Health

I've been ruminating more and more on a few ideas behind the term "community-led health". It's a phrase being used to describe the departure from the allopathic doctor-patient relationship as the hallmark of receiving healthcare.

At first it was intended as a call for collaboration between medical subspecialties. It was an ode to the multi-faceted nature of wellness, but within the confines of the current medical system. For those with diabetes, we would need our endocrinologist to consult with cardiologists and hepatologists to give us a more well-rounded approach to healing. This is opposed to patients receiving 4 different inputs from 4 different doctors and being left to decide how, what, why and in what order to implement what they were being told.

Good in theory, largely ignored in practice. As time goes on we continue to see a lack of continuity between specialties, an inability to incorporate outside perspectives in undeniably interconnected topics.

Food, exercise, herbs, supplements and mental health practices. As people's investment in their health grows (commensurate with how our illnesses continue to grow) the word "wellness" now encompasses a seemingly infinite variety of habits, specialties and circumstances.

If one were to superimpose the now outdated idea of "community-driven health" over the current influences, it feels like the community has grown beyond our abilities to meaningfully collaborate.

We had trouble getting our general physicians to fax our cardiologist. How does one tell their endocrinologist about the supplements they've learned about on social media? Or that our Reiki Master suggests it may drain necessary energy from our healing center?


But this is where I suggest a new outlook on our healing journeys.

With the inevitable feelings of information overload, analysis paralysis and general mistrust of one style over another, where is it we tend to retreat in our indecision?

We go back to our communities. Our inner networks of friends, family and local resources. The pursuit of our health is seen as largely separate from the rest of our life.

Coming from a healthcare system of specialized, ultra-educated and esteemed professionalism, it has been put on a pedestal. And for a long time it had been put so high up in the realms of society that when we, the people, had to interact with them, it was seen as a departure from our everyday life.

Doctor's advice not resonating with how you feel? Tired of having to argue to get your point across to a healthcare system that can't seem to find anything "wrong" with you? You fall back on what you know and trust. Talk to your mom or search social media for someone experiencing the same thing. Have your best friend weigh in with you on your options.

Why has the life experience of the general public been completely disavowed? Why can't there be "medicine" in our everyday life?

If we were to disarm that imagined disparity in quality of information from common folk and doctor, what would we take from the health experience of those before us? With a level playing field where no one's word takes precedence over another other than whether or not I choose to listen to them, what are the qualities I seek in getting myself help?

As products of our environment, our health is a direct result of the environment we cultivate for ourselves. First, you have to know yourself. What do you need? Where is your everyday world taking you?

From that environment, whom or what can you listen to? Nothing is insignificant. Recommended songs and popular movies are all fair game. The snack you have in your bag, the spin class you love on Tuesday nights.

THAT is medicine.

And with that, every human being on this planet suddenly finds themselves with more "in-network providers" than they ever knew existed.

You can learn about diet from someone who you deem overweight. You can learn how to be healthy from someone who is sick. You can emulate two people with different strategies and achieve a result uniquely yours.

Energy is the new currency of health. It can come from anywhere. From someone in a white coat? Maybe. But not necessarily.

It's within you and the relationships you hold. It's in the seeds, both literal and metaphorical, that you plant with your daily habits, thoughts and energy.

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