Is Fear the Best  Motivator in Healthcare?

Is Fear the Best Motivator in Healthcare?

A life-changing diagnosis seems bad enough without the stigma or possible guilt from feeling that this was somehow avoidable.

These days we are constantly bombarded by health studies. One week we are told we must act one way to reduce the risk of disease, the next week we hear that same action has been revealed to cause some other health issue. Personally I’ve become a bit weary of it all. If I do the wrong thing and get the disease, am I to blame? Did I fail some imagined test?

A study I read recently informed me that believing you are going to die early actually increases the chances of an early death. This could be true, but then it is also quite possible it was a previous study that convinced you you were going to die early in the first place.

This life expectancy study was a bit of a downer for me. You see, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 11. It was the 80’s, and at that time the way to encourage a child to follow all the new rules they were given was to tell them the following: If you don’t keep your blood sugar under control all the time, you will go blind, have your legs amputated, and end up on a dialysis machine. Maybe that wasn’t exactly what they said, but that’s what I heard.

I don’t recall heart disease being mentioned at the time, but maybe it didn’t sound so dramatic to my young ears. And now dementia is another option that has been more recently talked about as a possible outcome from having diabetes.

How do you respond when you are handed something that seems so beyond your control?

At age 11, I began what seemed like a reasonable thing to do under the circumstances. I started a countdown clock in my head. My great grandfather was the only person I had known who had died, at about 90. So I started at 90. Then every time my blood sugar was high, or I ate something not on the list, I took a year or two, or more, off my life expectancy. Lucky Great Grandad had a reasonably long innings! A few years later, I was down to 41, and I decided to stop, it was getting depressing.

Now I don’t know if the medical profession has come up with a better way of educating newly diagnosed diabetics (maybe sugarcoating it, ha ha). But with all the negative reports on diabetes in the media these days, I would think someone newly diagnosed would feel just as defeated as I did.

If the study above is correct, I could have potentially knocked a lot of years off my life. And if it isn’t, then, what I did was still a huge waste of time and who knows what other effects this outlook had on my life.

As an adolescent I believed, because I hadn’t been able to stick to the rules, I deserved a shorter life. I can only imagine how much harder I may have been on myself if I had developed type 2 diabetes in today's society with all the negative connotations surrounding it. How many of you give yourself a mental slap for eating a chocolate biscuit? - and we think this is reasonable?

I think society is still grappling with the notion that fear is not the best motivator.

We are always hearing reports of the list of consequences from smoking, not exercising, and not eating a healthy diet. OK, I get it, diabetes is bad. But I’m tired of being on that big bad list. Is this listing of ways to die achieving anything anyway? If not, can we change the record? Is there a more positive way we can get the message across?

I wonder, do the people who need to receive this message even hear it? Before you are diagnosed with a condition, doesn't it belong on somebody else's problem list?

Our ears are programmed to hear the news most relevant to our own lives, those closest to us, and then the most sensational. So it would be pretty hard to hear balanced news even if it is presented to us.

Alzheimer’s disease seems to be the new kid on the block as far as the outcome for not following the rules goes. It seems to me this negative reporting isn’t going to be any more helpful than the list I took away with me as a child. Someone newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease could very well feel defeated, depressed, and maybe even responsible for failing this imaginary test.

And this isn’t right or fair.

A life-changing diagnosis is a reminder of our own mortality. It’s scary, and we hate it. It’s purpose, we hope, is to help manage our health, to live longer and more comfortably.

But in educating ourselves are we scaring ourselves silly?

Maybe fear does work sometimes, but where is the tipping point? Is it working well enough to counterbalance the negative effects it causes?

Yes, there are consequences to our actions or inactions, but does the way this information is presented to us now, create a limiting belief in those who end up facing these consequences? Is there a better way to encourage them, and us all, to strive for success?

I believe fear and stigma are possibly making things worse for those who do end up diagnosed. Once again I don't have the answers, just my own observations. What do you think?

If you have been recently diagnosed with a condition, there is a lot of support available out there. See our Useful Links for dementia or brain injury sites. For all diagnoses Health Navigator NZ has a very comprehensive list of support services.

Top image: © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons