Contextual Information

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Jenny Epstein

Much public health information, which purports to promote self care, is directed at the individual and assumes that all people have the same ability for providing self care. The environment that people live in, level of self confidence, cultural health care beliefs or trust in the medical establishment, are not incorporated into self care health information.


Many people seek health information for self-care: Public Service Announcements and the Public Sphere and Education Information: Enabling Technology, Life long Learning #97. However, the paternalistic approach that dominates much health information promotes dependency. Therefore, people do not learn to trust their own bodies and remain unable to really provide self-care.
Much public health information assumes that all people have the same abilities to make positive changes in their behavior. The destructive effects of racism, poverty, dislocation and war on the ability of individuals to implement changes is ignored or dismissed.


Self care is the ability of an individual to take care of their own physical, mental and spiritual health. This ability is not equal among all people and yet much health information is developed as though this were the case.
Learned helplessness, the inability to respond to stressful situations in a self protective way, occurs after repeated exposures to uncontrollable trauma. Unhealthy behaviors are often the result, and yet much health information does not address this important reality. What does happen, is the individual is blamed for not following good advise.
In Medicine and the Family; A Feminist Perspective, Lucy Candib describes how blaming the victim in conventional medicine works. Women who are in abusive relationships are blamed as being individually responsible for their situation. They are also blamed for ignoring the good advise to leave their current situation, if they choose not to do so. As the author explains, what is ignored is the larger context these women live in. Self-reliance, self-confidence and the economic ability to live independently have been denied by a patriarchal system. Instead of looking at the entire situation the patient lives in, the advice of the medical professional is held up as a logical, “scientific” solution, ignoring the systematic causes of the situation in the first place. When the individual cannot overcome these barriers, it is the individual, not the barriers, that gets implicated.
A similar situation exists to people who contract HIV because of life styles that include self destructive behaviors. The expectation is that they should be able to adhere to complicated, expensive, uncomfortable regimens and take care of themselves in ways that they were unable to do even when they were healthy.


Create alternative information that focuses on a making people realize how much they already know. Information that makes people think non-defensively about themselves, in the context of their own world is not readily available to many people. Health information must take assessment of an individual’s ability for self-care. Through this assessment, an understanding and acknowledgement can be made as to what types of self-care are already being done. This information can be used to validate already existing positive behaviors.

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