The Issue is a series of articles on Healthy Community issues and topics, written by BC Healthy Communities Staff.
What is the issue?
The concept of self-care.
Why is it important?
According to the World Health Organization’s (1998) definition, self-care is “‘what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness.” Self-care is an important tactic for managing stress and supporting one’s overall health and well-being. It’s also often said that in order to be effective in caring for others, you must care for yourself first. This message has particular resonance for community leaders, including elected officials and advocates.
What does this look like through an equity lens?
When we examine issues through an equity lens, we consider: who benefits? who does not benefit, or is in fact potentially harmed? By promoting self-care as a primary means of maintaining health and well-being, we ignore that not everyone in our community has access to the time, space and sometimes money that are required to perform self-care. For example, even something as simple as taking a short walk around the block to recharge can be out of reach for someone who is a full-time caregiver, who lives in an area where walking is unsafe or sidewalks are inaccessible, or who faces long work commutes or back-to-back shift work.
A further challenge with the notion of self-care is that while it may strengthen an individual’s own personal resiliency, it doesn’t do anything to improve the systems and structures that cause the stress and challenges that self-care is used to recover from. As Edmonton-based community organizer Nakita Valerio reflects, “[s]elf-care only offers temporary relief to the deep-rooted structural challenges many of us face.”
In recent years, Valerio and other community development thought leaders have advanced the notion that, as communities, we should also be working together to address these structural challenges and build stronger systems that improve health and well-being for all. In 2019, Valerio proposed the notion of community care, which she defines as “a commitment to contributing in a way that leverages one’s relative privilege while balancing one’s needs.” This could look like anything from bringing dinner to a new parent’s home to advocating for your community.
Others have taken this concept further, focusing on changes that can be made at the structural level itself. Deanna Zandt has proposed that self- and community care should be complemented by a higher notion of structural care, which is taking action to ensure that our systems are designed to make self- and community care easier and more accessible. As religious educator Corinna Whiteaker-Lewis states, “[d]one right, these systems support the self-soothing, self-care, and community care we all need.”
What does this mean for local governments?
Local government elected officials and staff play a key role in designing, maintaining and modifying these systems and structures to ensure they can support care for oneself and others. Some areas of consideration include accessible and reliable transportation and active transportation networks, community-run or community-supported child and elder care, and policies that support racial and gender equity.
Here are a few ways that local governments in B.C. can work towards improving structural care in their communities:
Build equity into top-level policy.
- The City of New Westminster is working to develop a social equity policy, recognizing that equity is fundamental in allowing all community members to participate fully in social, economic, political and cultural life.
- The City of Prince George has also made huge strides in this arena in recent years, including the development of social development goals and a strategy that prioritizes equity.
Take measures to lower barriers for those who face them most often in your community.
- Acknowledging the shortage of childcare across the province, the Burns Lake Band operates a childcare centre for infants and toddlers that includes elements of cultural programming. The centre also offers care to children who need extra support, working with specialists including speech and occupational therapists.
- Recognizing that youth can face additional limitations around access to transportation, the City of Victoria has implemented free transit passes for youth living in the city.
- Since 1983, the Westbank First Nation has owned and operated Pine Acres, an intermediate care facility providing quality care for community elders, both indigenous and non-indigenous. The facility incorporates a Resident Council into its governance, and is committed to the incorporation of First Nations cultural and spiritual beliefs.
Where can I go to learn more?
To hear more about how your community can support health through strong public policy, get in touch with BC Healthy Communities, sign up for our newsletter, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
More about Community Care:
Community Care: Flare.com Op-Ed by Nakita Valerio
More about Structural Care:
The Unspoken Complexity of “Self-Care” by Deanna Zandt
Johanna Henderson is BC Healthy Communities’ Communications Manager.