Health problems related to poor diet, drinking and smoking are costing the NHS in England more than £11bn each year.

Public health officials state that unless the health issues and causative factors are tackled more effectively, the NHS will become unaffordable: warning that conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and smoking-related bronchitis are a new and untreatable epidemic. Around four out of ten middle-aged people already have a long-term health condition for which there is currently no cure, posing a real threat to the future of sustainable health services.

£11bn each year – that’s a phenomenal amount of money and more than that, these lifestyle-related conditions are taking years off people's lives.

Illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes, cancer, lung and heart disease – mostly related to lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, alcohol and smoking – are claiming lives at an alarming rate.

What needs to happen to break this damaging cycle of sickness – sickness that, to put it bluntly, is self-inflicted via poor lifestyle choices?

How can we turn the conversation from "what's making me ill", to "what makes me well"?

Slow suicide is still suicide

To lose a friend or loved one through suicide is traumatic for all who are involved. A few years ago a close friend of mine committed suicide and the ripples are still felt today. From time to time you review past conversations with the person, wondering what signs might have been missed and if more could have been done.

There is rightly much effort placed on understanding and preventing suicide, but what is unclear to me is why these efforts focus on only one form of suicide.

It would seem that most suicide prevention focusses on the ‘acute’ cases; those cases where someone makes a choice, on some level, to end their life in an abrupt way.

Calling it a choice is not intending to minimise the anguish some people feel in the lead-up to that choice; in fact, contemplating the level of anguish one must be feeling to reach that point, helps me understand the choice all the more.

But there is still another form of suicide that goes under the radar. What is this other form?

Lifestyle diseases

Lifestyle diseases come from the choices people make about what they eat, drink, how they move and even how they think about life. These choices put stress on the body and lead to diseases like diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, to name but a few.

These diseases are not uncommon in society; in fact, according to the World Health Organisation, lifestyle diseases are now the leading cause of death globally.[i]

Consider the magnitude of that fact for a moment. To achieve this result means that people around the world are making a repeated choice to live in a certain way that is so detrimental to their health that it is now the leading cause of death – GLOBALLY.

This makes the leading cause of death globally completely preventable.

That means that there is a chronic form of suicide where people around the world are slowly dying from the choices they are making each day.

So the only difference between ‘acute’ or ‘chronic’ forms of suicide is the timescale. Both come from choices made by the individual. While it is important to note that there can be a range of external factors and pressures that people face on both fronts, the facts are staggering nonetheless.

Looking at lifestyle diseases in this way suggests that there are many more people dying from their own hand (choice) than are thriving from their choices.

This is a big claim to make, but if we are interested in the anguish of those that attempt or commit ‘acute’ suicide, then it might serve to also start a conversation about the anguish that might be behind the levels of ‘chronic’ suicide that could now be considered as a pandemic.

Could it be that at a deeper level, regardless of race, creed, colour or religion, we are missing something far more fundamental?

While we might be missing certain behaviours, the term ‘missing’ more accurately refers to something we miss. The reality is that we must be carrying a level of sorrow or loss that is so strong that either ‘acute’ or ‘chronic’ suicide becomes an option.

In the case of ‘chronic’ suicide, not only is it an option, it is considered a normal. In fact it is heralded as the lifestyle all should aspire to. So we actually encourage each other to kill ourselves, yet at no point do we ask – “What drives that behaviour?”

Look at the Before and After pages on the UniMed Living website and you will see people making different choices.

They are not better people, nor special people, but they have been brave enough to explore what it was they were missing ... which turned out to be a deeper connection to themselves.


  • [i]

    Caldwell, A. ABC News. 28 April 2011. ‘Lifestyle’ diseases the world’s biggest killer. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-04-28/lifestyle-diseases-the-worlds-biggest-killer/2695712

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LifestyleDepressionHealth conditionsLifestyle diseasesDeathIll healthSickness

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