For the sake of argument

Too much health is making us sick

DR. R. W. SHEPHERD CONTENDS September 27 1958
For the sake of argument

Too much health is making us sick

DR. R. W. SHEPHERD CONTENDS September 27 1958

Too much health is making us sick

For the sake of argument


As one concerned with the health of people I am convinced that Canadians are being made too conscious of their health. There is too much said about health, too much written about health, and altogether too many people promoting the subject of health. Health today is the concern of everybody and everybody is concerned with health, from politicians to editors, f-rom insurance companies to labor unions, from laymen to experts, bar none. Health is everybody’s business, and at the height of the health boom the only person who stands to suffer from all the ballyhoo is the individual Canadian.

The man on the street today faces a barrage of health publicity which, taken as a whole, does nothing but confuse his mind and make him afraid. In the face of news copy, billboards, posters, pamphlets, magazine articles, radio and TV programs, campaigns for National Health Week, Mental Health Week, Cancer Societies, Diabetic Associations, Polio Foundations, Heart Foundations, TB Associations, Multiple Sclerosis Associations, Rheumatic & Arthritic Societies, government propaganda, insurance advertising. National Hospital Insurance schemes and all the rest he can do nothing but become overconscious of his health, with all the ensuing dangers of anxiety, insecurity and neurosis.

In the cause of bodily health we are creating a nation of neurotics. In the name of health education we spread fear and anxiety. In order to publicize and to raise funds for any of a score of health campaigns we force people into an unhealthy fear of diseases they never knew existed. In order to save the few who by ignorance or stupidity ignore serious symptoms we create a people who look for symptoms and, not knowing how to interpret them, go breathless to their doctor for reassurance. The medical profession today spends an

alarming amount of time simply telling people that they are not sick, and it becomes a common occurrence for doctors to be consulted by teen-agers and even by children who have no complaint about their health except that they think they might be getting cancer. This we do in the name of preventive medicine. We create a people who anticipate illness; who listen to their own heartbeats, who take their own pulse, who feel themselves all over for lumps. In short, we create an abnormal people when there is no need to do so, and for a nation which prides itself upon its good health we go a long way toward defeating our own purpose.

It was not always this way. Even allowing for the error of idealizing the past, there was a day when the average Canadian knew little about his health and was self-reliant because of it. By circumstance and need he had to be self-sufficient, and by custom he was not a little proud of his independence from the medical profession. He called upon his doctor for major or persisting illness, and for the rest he was content to wait until he got better with time, or until grandmother got at him with a mustard plaster or a dose of sulphur and molasses. Sayings like: An apple a day keeps the doctor away; a boil is worth a guinea; feed a cold and starve a fever — these were the common expressions of a people who did not run to their doctor for every passing symptom but who could and did quite capably look after their own health.

By contrast we have today a soft and overdependent people who might live longer than their forefathers but at the price of being “educated” into an increasing dread of disease. Grandmother, with her home remedies, is hopelessly out of date and even nature herself is suspect. A shot of penicillin will continued on page 32


For the sake of argument continued from page 8

“One fifth of our nation, at a conservative estimate, is in need of psychiatric attention”

do the trick in half the time, and if not penicillin then one of the newer steroids, a "miracle'’ drug or a "wonder" drug, and if all these fail then a tranquilizer. The fact that there is no such thing as a miracle drug is no more relevant than

the obvious fact that many of grandmother's home remedies formed the basis for many of the so-called wonder drugs. The old girl is finished and from her self-sufficient stock we are producing a half-educated and self-conscious people

who live in growing fear of a subject which, for all the publicity, they understand less and less.

Our mental hospitals are overcrowded and each new general hospital includes a psychiatric wing. The demand for

trained psychiatrists far exceeds the supply, and one fifth of our nation at a conservative estimate is in need of psychiatric attention. We are, it appears, in a sorry state. What is more, we are aggravating the defect by the fatal mistake of making health the concern of the healthy. Back when this country was young, health was quite rightly the concern of the sick, while the rest of the people got on with the business of living. Apart from following certain rules of simple hygiene, people left the matter of health to the good Lord who had dispensed it, to the good doctor who worked to preserve it, and to the unfortunate who happened to be without it. But in these complex times of stress and adaptation no such simplicity is allowed to exist. Preventive medicine, in the hands of anyone who cares to take a fling at it, has reached out beyond the mere limits of disease to include both the sick and the well. It is now not only the right of Canadians to be healthy but even a duty, for health has gone beyond the individual and become a national issue. In Ottawa a cabinet minister can get to his feet and proclaim: The Health of the Nation is the Wealth of the Nation. The fact that a cabinet minister can get away with such a ridiculous statement is a sure sign that the subject of health has been overworked until it no longer has valid meaning. The minister did not define what he meant by health, nor did he need to do so since health has become one of those obvious and desirable things like money, and the more you have of it the better. Health at a time of flagging political imagination brings with it a breath of new hope to every politician who finds within it an inexhaustible supply of campaign speeches. Health is of national importance, like mineral resources or pulpwood. The Health of the Nation is the Wealth of the Nation, no less. The plain fact of the matter is that health is important, but on an individual basis. It cannot be manufactured, it cannot be packaged, it cannot be advertised and it cannot be sold to the public. Health is a highly personal thing, as sensitive as it is delicate, as transient as it is elusive; the more you try to grasp it the more elusive it becomes. The greatest attribute of good health lies in a man's unconsciousness of his own health. It is the sick man who worries about his health, and by that token we as a nation are being driven to sickness. The healthy man does not worry about his health, he is unaware of his heart or his bones or his joints or his blood pressure or his blood sugar, unaware of them unless something goes wrong with them or unless by outside interference he is made conscious of them. In Canada today it is virtually impossible to be unaware of your health. It is even anti-social. From all sides there comes a steady stream of material designed to inform you about your health whether you wish to be informed of it or not. If it is not an announcer from a friendly insurance company warning you at breakfast to beware of excessive animal fats in your diet because of their relationship to hardening of the arteries and coronary thrombosis, it is a campaign announcement from a society which runs as follows: There is much that can be

done for cancer if it is caught early. But remember (sound of a ticking clock in background) TIME . . . IS . . . RUNNING . . . OUT! Be sure you see your doctor for any sore which does not heal, any unusual lump . . . etc. If it is not a newspaper announcement to the effect that the relationship between smoking and lung cancer has been established beyond doubt, it is a magazine article on the effect of the tranquilizers on the psychotic mind, or the sorry and spectacular tale of how a mother with Rh negative blood gave birth to a series of monsters. If it is not a TV program viewing the removal of a man's stomach or the birth of a baby it soon will be. If it is not a banner headline on the Salk vaccine. it is a smaller heading on the panic in certain American clinics where distraught mothers clawed at each other in an hysterical attempt to have their children immunized from a dwindling stock of poliomyelitis vaccine.

Having become overconscious of our own health it follows quite naturally that w'e become overconscious of the health of our children. The average Canadian mother who brings up her children to be soft and lacking in muscular control does so through no fault of her own. She does not know what normal health is since she has been trained to think of health in terms of disease. When her child gets a headache she thinks of polio, when his temperature does not subside she wonders if he has leukemia, and if through boredom or sheer laziness he does not adjust at school the pressure is upon her to go clattering off to a child psychiatrist for guidance. She calls her doctor for everything and anything, and it is with the utmost reluctance that she is made to accept the obvious fact that her child must develop the usual crop of sniffles and coughs and contagious diseases in order to develop his own immunity. Like the people around her she is obsessed with the idea that anything short of perfect health is abnormal and must at all costs be corrected. She has been trained to think that disease is unnecessary and that any disease which does not resolve instantly on treatment is one leading to the direst complication. She is armed with an over-indulgent attitude to health, half a dozen medical lay texts, and a thermometer which she plunges into any handy infant orifice sometimes twice a day on a regular basis like cleaning the teeth. The sad part of all this lies not so much in the effect on the mother herself, which is bad enough, but more in the transmitted effect upon her children, the future generation of Canadians. At the pace we arc now keeping they stand a good chance of being physically remarkable and mentally incompetent, if not addled in the brain.

So where do we go from here? It seems to me that we should go forward in the faith and the realization that liv-

ing is a wonderful experience. We should take heart from the fact that we have come a long way from grandmother's home remedies, that w'e have conquered many of the afflictions of those times, and that we will continue to conquer those that remain. But we should be warned against the error of thinking that bodily health is the only health, nor should we forget that w'e depend as much now' as then upon the grace of the Almighty who gives us health, and upon the extraordinary ability of nature to restore its own balance. Grandmother

did not demand a shot of penicillin for every cold in the head, nor should we. She did not fill herself with tranquilizers when the going was rough, nor snatch a stimulant when the going was tedious. She did not face the mass of health publicity with which w’e burden ourselves, nor did she think that health insurance was the answer to all her worries.

It seems to me that if people stopped worrying about their health we would all be the healthier for it. By all means have regular checkups, and by all means guard our health, but let it rest there

without multiplying our worries in a senseless manner. Let us leave the matter of health in the hands of those whose responsibility it is to look after it. If fewer people spent less time meddling with the business of health, we would as a nation and as individuals within that nation be less neurotic, and much less afflicted with the host of artificial anxieties of our own creating. After all. there is a lot of living to be done in this country, and for my part I feel that we should forget about our health and get on w'ith it. ★