08 Jul Chronic Disease and the Hero’s Story
Much has been written and spoken about a person’s behavior and its impact on chronic disease. It is one of the major socio-economic opportunities of our time. It seems so simple; changing or breaking bad habits and creating better, healthier, new habits. Like most things, easier said than done. Yet, the facts are right there. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health1 say behaviors account for 50% of the factors contributing to health and 40% of the factors contributing to premature deaths.
There are many forces that establish bad habits, some out of our control. Ask any dietician or diabetes educator regarding diabetes type 2 behaviors and they will rattle off a list that includes big agriculture corn syrup to false expectations set on Biggest Loser and cultural biases that impede change in African American and Hispanic communities. This bad behavior has significant costs. For example, an American Diabetes Association study2 calculated a healthy person’s annual medical costs at approximately $2,500, a person with diabetes at $13,700 and if the person has diabetes and cardiovascular problems (as 74% of diabetics do) the cost is $44,500.
Changing behavior for the long-term requires the right kind of cognitive programs to be in place for success. Often this goes beyond a person’s visit to a doctor or specialist for a quick consult accompanied by a prescription. People need to be guided to and through their own behavior change process. Is this society’s role? Probably not. One could argue it is society’s role to stop blaming the chronically obese diabetic or heart disease patient for their condition. Instead, we need to look more at Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, because if these people are going to change, we need to understand that framework as the path forward.
Modifying the classic model in summary, answering the call becomes “I will change to improve my condition.” Tests and allies become “Who can help me?” and situations that challenge resolve. Ordeal, death and rebirth include relapse to bad behavior and situations where all looks lost to a person with a chronic condition. Reward, seizing the sword then becomes “I have things I do that are working.” The road back is the never-ending road to maintain the best current health state, using tools that will help the person stay on the hero’s path.
What we’ve found through our work is that you can create a platform that enables the hero’s journey for people with chronic conditions digitally using storytelling and sharing.
We have found that to change, people need:
- Better understanding of what’s going on with their body
- Control, or a sense of control over their condition
- Support in a way that is organized
- Connection to others with the same condition
- Resolution to situations and challenges that occur
- Meaning in what life is now after fundamental change
To meet these kinds of needs, we’ve developed approaches that can enable the journey through:
- Resource libraries and links to the latest research and findings after diagnosis
- Discussion guides that help people ask the right questions of their doctors
- Curated guides by the those with the disease / ailment that are most social and include special situations and advice (braid your long hair before this type of surgery)
- Shared stories that allow people to post and share their journeys and find resolution in their lives
- Tracking tools with links to the right sets of resources that get people back to living
Sometimes these programs already exist in pieces in large health care organizations and need to be knitted together. In other situations, it becomes the role of large pharmaceutical or insurance companies to support these additional service efforts in lieu of advertising spend. Regardless, a hero’s journey needs to be structured and supported. It takes organized encouragement and support from friends and family and an understanding from society at large.
2 American Diabetes Association / Health Partners
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To contact the author
Rick Shaughnessy, Partner