Cornwall Life - - FRONT PAGE -

As a health cor­re­spon­dent work­ing for a daily news­pa­per a num­ber of years ago, there were what was termed by the editor as a ‘dis­ease of the week’ fea­ture. The ref­er­ence was short­hand for the many aware­ness weeks we now have; ev­ery week we had space for one wor­thy cause to pro­mote – and there were of­ten sev­eral at a time. Some be­gan as a sin­gle day and were pro­moted to take up a full month, some were al­ways wor­thy of big head­lines, while oth­ers rarely got a men­tion.

Health was top of the list of reader in­ter­ests (only beaten by crime) and the fea­tures were an op­por­tu­nity to raise aware­ness, tell the sto­ries of those af­fected and of­fer up ad­vice that could save a life. It was gen­uinely a hon­our to share their story.

But along­side learn­ing the con­tents of Black’s Med­i­cal Dic­tio­nary and know­ing enough about the NHS to run it, I got a fast ed­u­ca­tion in un­palat­able truths. Per­ceived mid­dle class dis­eases gar­nered more col­umn inches. Con­di­tions con­sid­ered to be self-in­flicted were by­passed – un­less you got ‘good’ lung can­cer (pas­sive smok­ing or in­dus­trial dis­ease) – you were ex­pected to take your limited amount of medicine and die qui­etly as the low mor­tal­ity rates went un­re­ported. Ed­i­tors didn’t want you to write about it, it wasn’t pri­ori­tised in re­search and those with it of­ten ac­cepted their fate, with quiet dig­nity. After­all, it was their fault.

When it came to writ­ing fea­tures, men­tal heath was al­ways bot­tom of the list. Front page head­lines were only gar­nered when things went badly wrong and speak­ing to men­tal health ser­vice users and telling their sto­ries could be chal­leng­ing, not only be­cause of their con­di­tions, but be­cause they of­ten saw the me­dia as hos­tile. Good news sto­ries were brief and buried in the back pages of the news­pa­per.

Why am I think­ing about this at New Year? In Jan­uary alone we are think­ing about liver health, Paget’s dis­ease, sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions, lep­rosy, cer­vi­cal can­cer and nits – not to men­tion stop­ping drink­ing, ve­g­an­ism and na­tional hug day. I'm not dis­miss­ing any of these causes, but per­haps we should con­sider our pri­or­i­ties.

‘Health was top of the list of reader in­ter­ests and fea­tures were an im­por­tant op­por­tu­nity to raise aware­ness, and tell the sto­ries of those af­fected and of­fer up ad­vice that could save a life.’

What rib­bon will you wear?

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