Isla Whateley

Isla Whateley, an MA (Hons) student in Social Anthropology with Development at the University of Edinburgh and representative of RSPH’s Young Health Movement, reviews her role as a judge in the Health: From Here to Where? short story competition.

The creative arts is a hugely under-utilised resource when it comes to tackling social issues. Many think that the way to talk about the pressing issues of the day is through traditional politics, through news media or just general discussion. However, important messages can be conveyed just as well – if not better – through the medium of creative arts.

I had the pleasure of being invited to help judge the Health: From Here to Where? short story competition in July, and I hugely enjoyed reading all of the shortlisted entries. Young people really care about health inequalities and, more importantly, the social factors that affect health.

Being such a broad topic, it was great to see the different approaches the shortlisted entries took while still staying relevant to the theme. Whether the story took place in a dystopian wasteland or just a distorted corporate future, they all showed elements of the social aspect of health and how this has affected society in the future.

All of the stories had some kind of message, too. Even if only implied, there was the emphasis that health inequalities need to be tackled now before things get much, much worse. This is something that I completely agree with. Under the current context of increasing poverty, low wages and cuts to our health service, a lot of the scenarios imagined in the stories could become reality in the not-so-distant future.

And these pieces can raise awareness of these issues, in a fun and easily-accessible way that may be more appealing to young people than the ‘depressing’ news, or something their parents say. That’s the beauty of using the arts to make a difference in the real world.

Young people need to be more engaged with these issues, and that begins with education. I didn’t learn about social inequality within my own country until I was about 16 at school, and I know people who didn’t learn anything.

The news isn’t accessible to many young people, so these things need to be taught in schools to a high standard. This will make young people more aware of the issues, and more willing to act and take a stand against the unfair treatment of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Overall, I thought the shortlisted entries were great. They definitely all appealed to me, and at 20 years old I think I still count as a young person or young adult! But they were the sort of things I would’ve loved to read when I was a teenager in school, and some of them genuinely had me wanting to know more about the characters and the worlds the authors had created.

There was such a depth and richness of writing and content, which is an incredibly admirable skill. But the most important part is that they all convey a hugely relevant and important message, and I hope they will help inspire other young people to learn more and, perhaps, take action.

(Main picture taken from illustrations of 'What You Want' by Thomas Moore)