Receiving a diagnosis of a chronic disease sparks a flurry of questions, uncertainty and, depending on the diagnosis, an assortment of varying symptoms. But regardless of your age, gender, or type of chronic disease you’re diagnosed with, one symptom is almost universal: the emotional burden.
“This program is very generic because it shows everybody that even though we have different chronic diseases or we’re dealing with different things, we all still struggle with the same things,” says Tina Culver, family health and wellness manager for Thompson Health. “No matter what disease we have, our emotions all go through the same thing.”
The program that Culver refers to is Thompson Health’s Chronic Disease Self-Management Workshop, a six-week series that incorporates action plans to help participants self-manage their chronic disease. The free program comes with a book, meditation CD, and a CD of exercises for those who are capable of light movements. Over the course of the six weeks, participants take part in 19 various workshops including “Using Your Mind to Manage Symptoms," “Getting a Good Night’s Sleep,” “Making Decisions” and “Healthy Eating”.
As Culver explains, persons who are diagnosed with a chronic disease may have different symptoms, but they all go through emotional highs and lows. This frequently can lead to depression and cause poor eating habits and difficulty making decisions. The emotional tollcan also adversely affect problem-solving and influence patients to fall behind on their prescribed medicines or scheduled physician visits.
Each week, Culver says participants make an action plan in which they choose something specific they want to work on. The following week, they report back to everyone in the workshop explaining how they hit their goals or why they fell short.
“It holds them accountable and it gives them something to focus on each week and self-manage,” Culver says. “Life happens to everyone, and you may have plans today and something comes up and gets in the way, but you self-manage. It’s self-management to the point where we are not allowed to make out their name tags for them. They have to make out their own name tags because it’s self-managing.”
Culver is also clear with participants that this is not a support group. While a byproduct of the workshop is supporting one another, the intent is to provide the necessary information and education through various workshops to help people self-manage their chronic diseases.
Another part of the program is encouraging anyone who is deeply passionate about the program’s message to become a facilitator, as the workshops are meant to be peer led. Culver says one of her goals of the program is to have it not be “teacher/student,” but rather peers working together to facilitate sound outcomes.
“It’s really just two people that are facilitating the group to go through one session at a time and making sure that everybody has an opportunity to make their action plan and talk about it and keep things rolling,” she says. “But that can really be anybody.”
It’s this passion for helping others that has been with Culver as long as she can recall. After working in the clinical areas of local hospitals for years, she wanted to work more in preventive care rather than treating disease after diagnosis.
“It was looking ahead rather than looking behind after the fact,” Culver says. “It was a passion I’ve always had. I’m always eating well, I’ve always exercised, and it was part of who I was.” She adds that even growing up she would tell her siblings not to eat unhealthy foods.
Culver says the focus now is also on population health and promoting a healthier community. Hospitals today are not only taking care of patients when they come through the doors, but also before a hospital visit needs to take place. That has led to further education in schools and focus on how to prevent chronic diseases from occurring. It’s also helped promote healthy habits at home.
“You start with kids, and then hopefully you get the parents at some point to try to make people healthier,” she says. “Health is always the focus — to make your community a healthier community.”
Today when Culver meets those in the community with chronic disease, her focus has been on trying to keep them where they’re at so they do not get worse. Above all, she says, it’s about taking care of yourself, taking your medicine and following instructions from physicians. One of the most challenging aspects of treating chronic disease, she says, is compliance and maintaining a positive perspective on life.
“Everybody who has a chronic disease has the same emotions and goes through the same things,” she says. “All these things, no matter what disease you have, these individuals go through the same thing.”