Are we sicker than we look?

By Joshua Campbell, Ghent, Belgium

Are we sicker than our eyes would have us believe? Are we very good at band aiding our ill conditions and making it seem like all is ok? These are questions I have been pondering on ever since I moved to Belgium from a small town in New Zealand.

When I was growing up in NZ it was common to see only one hospital in each city, with the exception of a few bigger cities like Auckland which has three and this makes sense given its population is over one million. However, in Ghent, the city I now live in, a city of only 300,000 people, there are a whopping four large hospitals each with the full catalogue of services and specialists that you would expect in any large hospital.

In addition, Ghent also has 6 health centres, each with numerous doctors and other specialists on top of the already large number of general doctors and other specialists practising in their own clinics around the city. And if that was not enough, there are also night doctors, dentists and pharmacies and if you really are stuck, it is only a short trip to another city close by, which like Ghent has yet more hospitals and specialists there.

This as you can imagine was vastly different from what I experienced growing up, yet is the norm for people here in Europe. Most do not even seem to question that such access to health care is a warning sign for humanity. The healthcare here is fantastic, no question, in fact it is excellent and I am not criticising this in any way, but what I am asking is: why do we need such a large range of healthcare services just to function as a society?

Naturally, there were a number of questions that came flooding in when I realised the extent of health care here in Ghent and Belgium in general. Firstly, was the question of how so many health specialists could compete for business!? And how all these hospitals were able to fill beds and afford to keep themselves running. Obviously with the large numbers of people using these facilities, there must be a demand for so many to begin with, for them to even have been built. And hence my next question; if the demand is so high, there must be a high level of sickness, disease or illness within the community to justify such a demand, so is this a sign that this society is sicker than it looks?

I walk around Ghent and I see that most people are not bandaged up, on crutches or having to be wheeled round in wheel chairs. No, on the surface society seems to be doing well. But one of the things that struck me when I first came here was the incredibly high number of pharmacies. There is one on almost every street! All with a full range of basic and specific drugs and medications available for use. And again, if so many pharmacies are able to not only survive but do well in one single city, then there must be a high demand for them and that means a high demand for drugs, given that with so many pharmacies, a single pharmacy is serving only a fraction of the population.

It makes me wonder: if these medical facilities were not there in the many and varied ways in which they currently are, would we be able to cope? The evidence of so much illness and so much disease would be unavoidable and perhaps in such a state we could not hide the fact that as a race we are very sick.

I have observed that there is very little in modern-day life, with so many technological advances, that ought to be making us sick by circumstance alone. By this I mean that we have so many tools at our disposal to make life so much more physically supportive than was available even 50 years ago and because of this we should be less sick. Yet it is apparent there is more, yes more, sickness now than there was back when my parents were my age and this is not just true by statistics alone but also in the fact that so much has changed even in the twenty years since I was born. I can remember going to the doctor and talking about anything and everything, and yet feeling like the doctor was not rushed off his feet with patients to treat, nor overwhelmed by the ways of the system, or by complications that seemed to only get worse and not truly better, or that the health budget of the nation was bursting at the seams like it is today. Nowadays it feels like doctors and health systems are just getting by and one day they may not be able to cope, especially if we keep getting sicker.

So, why are we getting sicker when today we can have so much at our finger tips, literally to the point where we can order a taxi, a pizza and search the web on anything and everything, all from the ease of our phone!?

What if the downward trend in our health is related to our way of living? The two are not exclusive, as what we do more than anything is to live life. Recently, I have become more aware of the importance of self-responsibility in life and how it is not common for us to live much, if any, true responsibility for the quality of our well-being. There is a ‘life happened, fix me up’ mentality that is common in society, and I am starting to question whether it is this approach to life that is the cause of our worrying health trends.

This is indeed a much needed topic for us all to consider, for there is clearly more to living truly well and healthy than just mere function, as we are very good at restoring function in healthcare but clearly the overall state of our health is not great. Perhaps it’s time to take off the layers that have us believe that our state of health is ‘ok’ and start to question whether there is more to how we are living than would otherwise meet the eye.

Without the wonderful care of modern medicine, we would be looking and feeling a lot sicker… medicine is doing a great job, but it is also starting to ail and fail, because of the increasing burdens we are placing on it. It is propping us all up to continue living our unhealthy ways, patching us up and allowing us to go back out there and continue doing what made us ill in the first place, and protecting us from the full consequences of our choices. But we cannot continue like this forever…

Perhaps it is time for us to start taking responsibility for our choices and to live in a way that keeps us largely healthy and well, thus reducing the burden on our health care systems.


Read more:

  1. The new era in public health 
  2. What would happen if we became CEO’s of our own health? 


453 thoughts on “Are we sicker than we look?

  1. I’ve had several conversations recently with people who remember conversations back in the 80s and early 90s about how technology was going to transform the way we live and work and make everyone’s lives better, and that we’d have no work to do. It seems to me like it’s not so much the volume of work that is a problem, but how we work and live, and how we use technology, that creates the health issues: are we aware of how our bodies feel as we work, or do we lose ourselves in the screen for hours on end? The technology is there for us to connect more with one another.. perhaps it’s time for us to learn how to use it in that way, and how to work in a way where we stay connected to how we feel and feel rejuvenated at the end of a day.

  2. It can be easy to forget when having been on a workshop where the room is full of people making responsible health and wellbeing choices and looking so very well, that this just is not typical. You only need pop out to the supermarket in a break to realise and see just how unwell most people are today, whether they realise it or not. I say this not to criticise but to appreciate the differences made and the fact that it is possible to reverse many ill health trends if we are able to change our choices sufficiently.

  3. Arriving and living in a foreign country is probably the closest we get to taking a detached look at the way our species is living. I live in a regional town and can think of 5 chemists within a kilometre of each other. If I ever go in they are busy with lots of people waiting for scripts. It seems that living on medications to keep us functioning is the norm, rather than looking at our lifestyle and becoming more respectful of our body and health.

  4. And yet as a group of people the student body of Universal Medicine reflects that changing our choices and movements to be more loving and regarding of universal laws means that our health improves to reverse all the trends in humanity.

  5. The thing is that to be truly well, healthy and vital is so rare that we are not familiar with what that looks like. Almost all of us are either ill or on the road to illness, so this unhealthy-ness and non-vitality have become what we consider normal. Unfortunately.

  6. A well needed wake-up call Joshua, thank you.
    The picture is in fact so much more severe. The increasing number of pharmacies are the tip of the iceberg showing us the number of physical ailments people are willing to own up to and seek help for.
    We have lowered the bar of what we accept as being well so much. Simply the absence of vibrancy in someone’s eyes, the lack of vitality in their walk and relationships devoid of joy and absolute love with every other person in their life ought to flag that something is not okay. If we return to such a definition of health, most of the planet’s population would be rightly seen as chronically ill.

    1. Spot on Golnaz. most of the planets population are actually chronically ill, many carrying multiple illnesses. The medical profession are so stretched that they are becoming ill themselves from the stress and I understand that many GPs want to quit the job as a result.

  7. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to observe everyone walking down the street and feeling their true state of health rather than being deceived by what we think we are seeing.

  8. Perhaps we have changed our meaning of what it is to be well and healthy, losing the baseline of being vital and full of energy in life to merely not having a serious illness and disease?

  9. ‘What if the downward trend in our health is related to our way of living? The two are not exclusive, as what we do more than anything is to live life.’ This makes such obvious sense and yet how many of us are willing to admit the truth of this? From a bumped knee to a terminal illness, all disease is an outward outplay of an energy we have chosen to align to that is disruptive to the natural harmony in the body, which then has to release it.

  10. We can say that the medical system has got better at diagnosing illness and disease, which is true we but we also need to be honest and admit that our health is not improving and younger and younger people are suffering greater quantities of illness and disease.

  11. Prostate cancer is just another killer disease that hides so well if we ignore the bodies hints that there is something wrong! Regrettably, it is becoming commonplace for knowing someone that looked healthy and discovers that little niggly feeling was cancer that had spread everywhere. At this juncture, the ticket for your terminal departure was bought and paid for and just waiting for you to board!

  12. If we stand around in a pharmacy for a while we get to see how ill people are as they come in to fill their scripts. Pharmacies/medical centres/hospitals – they all tell us where we are at in terms of our state of health as a society.

  13. Quick fixing GP visits or are we willing to go further and ask what are our lifestyle choices that are causing the increasing levels of illness and disease.

  14. The rate of bulk building of surgeries around the world is clearly showing the rates of illness and disease.

    1. True, it’s the new way we work in the world, one where we are starting to see how our health is everything yet still refusing to change the quality and care in which we look after ourselves.

  15. Very inspiring to take full responsibility for our health and well being and start considering deeply how we truly live and the ideals and beliefs we have with this.

  16. The medical system is definitely oversubscribed where I live and it’s very difficult to get an appointment. It’s easier to drive thirty minutes down the road and go to the drop in centre at the hospital than it is to get a GP appointment within walking distance of my house.

    1. There was a recent news item here in the UK where 1500 oversea doctors were denied visas in three months even with having a job offer working for the NHS because it exceeded the monthly limit the government allowed! New buildings are useless, without staff to fill them!

  17. Very revealing how we judge our health by the way we look instead of the quality we live. The fact that we can look smart but have the most toxic relationships speaks volumes.

  18. Great observation Joshua pointing out that is it possible that by the increase in pharmacies and availability of health care specialists in our society today is actually showing us that our health status is worsening, but we are being propped up, instead of blatantly asking ” Why are we needing these services more? Are we being responsible for our health? And if not, why not?

  19. Looking around me after reading this very real blog I too see the chemist / pharmacy shops everywhere increasing all the time with what must be the demand and the hiding of the real amount of illness and disease kept a bay and accepted as normal when it is absolutely not.

  20. It is a great observation that you have taken, in regards of healthy looking people and yet the sheer number of pharmacies and health care facilities abundant… It highlights a kind of band aid effect going on, all looks clean and well from the surface, but what is really going on with population health when we rely so much on pharmaceuticals?

  21. To me this highlights how normalised quite extreme changes in society become when the change occurs gradually. A very wise man I know said that what accept we become and in this example, we have become sicker by accepting this as normal – by accepting that it is normal to use pharmaceuticals to continue to function and for many of us to live with multiple illnesses and diseases. Like you Joshua, I’m not suggesting we don’t take medicinal drugs if we need them. I am questioning the normalisation of the acceptance that this is just the way it is when we age – the inevitable breakdown of the body which requires treatment to function.

  22. We may be living longer and there may be more access to medical services than in the past however is our natural state of wellbeing much less than before?

  23. Medicine and medical procedures have improved so much over the years that we use this to tell ourselves we are getting better and the quality of our lives are improving but how can this be when there is so much demand on hospitals and drugs so much so that our current drugs are no longer working.

  24. What is seen and what is felt are definitely two different stories Joshua, it is about time we opened our eyes wide and understood more depth about what is happening in our society. Only then can we start to reverse the trend.

    1. Gill so very true, if we took away all the medication, doctors and support systems that we have we would end up in a totally different space. One where we would be showing the signs on the external of the sickness we allow on the internal.

  25. Interesting angle here in this blog. We could look at the increase in health care facilities and access to health care as a sign of a modern advancing society and it is indeed a good thing to have great health care, but if we dig a little deeper and consider why we are needing more and more health care to keep going then suddenly we realise that it is because we are getting sicker and sicker and therefore not advancing as we may have thought but deteriorating as a species.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s