These stories run with patient comments such as, "I was determined not to let this beat me." or "It was a very difficult journey, but I triumphed in the end." The statements themselves are likely true, but the press will often imply that the tenacity of the patient was the major key to recovery.
So what about all the people that remain chronically, and often severely, ill? Are they simply not determined enough to elicit their own recoveries?
Of course I understand the need for journalists to make the subject of their stories heroic, and therefore remarkable, but there must be other ways of doing this than implying that strength of character and determination alone are sufficient to overcome serious illness?
Actually this line of thinking is not just insulting to the patients who remain ill, but also to the many doctors and researchers involved in bringing effective treatments to patients. Often the fact that a new drug, or change in treatment, coincided with the turning point in the patient's attitude is down played, and the reader is left supposing that any illness can be over come with good mental fortitude.
The message is subtle and repetitive. It is also incredibly damaging.
Those who live with intractable chronic illnesses are often regaled with these popular recovery messages by friends and family. Well meaning folk get convinced that recovery would be just around the corner if only the sufferer would just "think more positively" and "believe that recovery was possible"!
Worse however, is the way this concept affects attitudes wherever a chronically ill person goes!
The cynical "if only you'd try harder" attitude now seems to be the official line for benefits assessments. The ongoing problems with Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) assessments being particularly problematical.
And here the media has influence again.
This time by vilifying patients by "catching them out" doing something they should not be capable of doing according to the benefits they receive. In these articles journalists can be especially cruel, often using a photo captured in a single moment as their evidence, ignoring the fact that one single moment may not represent the real truth.
Gradually public opinion of the long-term ill and disabled changes. The chronically ill are now labelled as either heros, or layabouts.
Media heroes have their praises sung high. In these stories the heroic individuals either: use their strength of will to recover from their condition; or they have a visible disability, manage to achieve something outstanding, and are described as an "inspiration to all".
Unfortunately, those who remain long term ill without much hope of recovery, and especially those who don't have immediately obvious disabilities, don't get hero treatment in the media. Sadly it is then assumed they must fall into the category of "layabout".
This dichotomy might not be as a direct consequence of all those media spun recovery stories, but they do have influence.
Recovery stories where the patient is the hero, might appear to be applauding the character of the now smiling recovered individual, but I can't help thinking that the flip side of these stories - the implication that anyone could recover if their character was simply stronger - is unacceptable.
I'd love to see mainstream media stories focus more on the treatments themselves, and on how lives can be changed by them, than on the personal attributes and positive thinking of an individual.
Journalists - if you are reading this please consider that these stories, written with the best of intentions, are actually contributing to a bigger narrative - one that puts blame on all the chronically ill folk that don't recover. This can also lead to less public sympathy and greater difficulty in finding funding for proper research into medical treatments.
Many of us are determined to recover. That determination is of course fantastic. It gives us strength to see through difficult treatments, or to campaign for change. And I've no doubt some positive thinking can help with coping with a restricted lifestyle. However, please, let's be realistic about the place of "determination" in effective healing.
Well Enough to Drink Coffee? May 2015
Well Enough to Drink Coffee? May 2015