Although I do fairly well for myself, 3 children, a great wife and a fantastic job, life hasn’t always been that simple.
As a young lad, I grew up in a broken family and had been exposed to a fair bit of crime, violence and a whole plethora of scenarios a young lad shouldn’t be exposed too. My birth mum suffered severely with her mental health, resulting in me being left to fend for myself more often then I care to remember. I found myself in emergency care, mixed with people I shouldn’t and began to seek a way out of the predetermined subpar life that was unfortunately inevitable.
In 2002 I left to seek out becoming a British Commando! I left school with not a qualification to my name and to this day I struggle with spelling and often avoid writing in front of people I don’t know! Although I’ve published in world leading journals, I always feel like I’m just not quite good enough, like I don’t belong.
One day I will tell you my full story, I guess it’s worth telling! But for now, let me explain why I exposed a little about my background. As a scientist and Fellow at The Royal Society for Public Health, I am more than aware that I am an anomaly. I don’t conform to what the science says “should” have happened to me. By all accounts, I should be a complete failure or, a small time criminal at best. However, I’ve emerged in a fairly strong position and have become a respected member of society.
This puts me in a very unique position. I see both sides of the typical “us vs them” debate. It’s the reason I don’t feel like I belong sometimes, there’s still a big part of me that is grounded, understands what it’s like to be down on luck. When growing up in a 2 bed flat in one of the roughest parts of the North West, it was already meant to be that I continued the pattern of poor health and poor wealth. Since breaking the mould and attaining great health and a superbly appreciated position in society, I look back to where I came from and understand the issues entirely.
The situation I look back on, this predetermined deleterious pathway is termed by my colleagues in my new life “social detriments of health’. The ‘social determinants of health’ are the collective set of conditions in which an individual is born, grows up, works and lives and which directly or indirectly affects their health. In their broadest form, they are identified as employment status, work and working environment, access to essential services (including health care), and housing and the living environment.
I now know there is a strong research base that shows a relationship between unemployment and poor health. I remember when my mum became unemployed and the family began to fall apart. She was attacked with a hammer in the post office she worked at, she was never to return following an absolute spiral in her pre-existing mental health condition. This is one of my earliest memories.
Unemployment is an important life event, which not only induces stress, it is a primary determinant of health inequalities. Unemployment is associated with poor mental health conditions and poor self-reported health and health damaging behaviours. I’ve seen the impact with my own eyes. As a child I remember my mum cutting herself, at one point, she did it so bad she was rushed to hospital. She also smoked and I mean smoked! In later years, she turned to alcohol and would routinely down a small bottle of vodka along with her ever increasing cocktail of medication, an absolute recipe for disaster.
Access to essential services (including health care, goods and services) influences health and health inequalities from ‘institutional mechanisms’. These services and health-affecting institutions (also referred to as ‘opportunity structures’; for example, GP surgeries and fast food outlets) are socially constructed and can be of varied quality, availability and access. The North lacks many of these services, with the ones on offer remaining questionable to their motives and intent.
Housing and the living environment are material determinants of health and wellbeing. Housing issues (such as dampness, overcrowding and no heating) are negatively associated with health. Persistent exposure to housing problems results in poorer health conditions and may exacerbate underlying health disorders. This was a massive part of my growing up!
So, why have I mentioned all this and ranted on? Essentially, I know there are people out there suffering, some people don’t even realise. I know this is impacting physical and mental health and also shaping the futures of many generations to come. Moreover, I know this impacts where I live. Although I live in a nice semi rural setting now, I appreciate where I’ve come from, that’s why I research what I do! I want to change things, play a little part, leave a legacy. Why? Because I know, somewhere out there, there’s plenty more people like me. Smart, intelligent and driven individuals who just don’t have the right start and social springboard in life. What we all have in common is that we’re Northerners, this allows us to break the mould.
And for anyone reading this that can relate to my background, you’re completely capable! Although I sometimes have imposter syndrome, I snap myself out knowing “they could have never made it through the shit I did, they could never step into my old world, but I (we) can step into theirs and dominate”. Here’s to pushing forward, in ‘their’ world and influencing policy, science and thoughts for the good of the forgotten people, us Northerners.