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The definitions of health are vast and differing from society to society. The different definitions are likely to be a reflection of the cultures and ideologies, of the most influential and powerful people in that society. The state of being healthy has been described in many ways, but often towards meaning wellbeing of some kind. It can be described as being free from disease, when all the body's organs and systems are working in harmony. But health is not only determined by disease or lack of; it is broad and includes other aspects that contribute to an individual's well being. It is a relative state which differs from one person to the other. Also, it relates to the whole person and not particular things in that person. There is a holistic nature to health which should be analyzed as a whole in order to declare someone healthy.
Dr. Manish Bhatia founder of a homeopathy website employed a triune approach to defining health, mental health, physical health and emotional heath (Bhatia, 2009). To be in good physical health means that all the parts of the body are there and are performing their intended functions to a satisfactory level. Every part of a person's body, should be there and located in the right place. They should be without disease and work in harmony to compliment each another. The body is like a factory, whose components and structures all work towards a common goal. To add on that; the body's system and parts should maintain their anatomical integrity and functionally, even while under considerable stress. When a person doesn't fall ill, it does not necessarily mean that they are healthy. They could be plagued by other problems that may not be physically visible but detrimental to their health (Commission on the Social Determinants of Health, 2008)
Mental health refers to the wellness of the mind. How we live our lives is based on what the mind of an individual decides and perceives. Physical body parts are controlled by the mind and the things we come across are interpreted to mean meaningful things or otherwise, thus forming our experiences and shaping our intelligence. Basically, the mind is what aids us in thinking, comprehension, judgment, perception and memory. As a result, our intellect is shaped depending on the capabilities of our minds. Good, mental health means that an individual perceives things, as they are and not in different ways that may cause disruption to functions or harm. In addition, the individual's mental health should be at an aptitude closer to social average or just above.
Also, the individual should be able to understand social structure and the forms of communication, within the structure. To add onto that, the individual should be able to recollect and reproduce information gained from the senses, to a degree that is reasonable (Bhatia, 2009). Also, the individual should have the ability to make judgment in terms of right or wrong, good or bad. These basic functions cannot be given a scale, because different things work for different people. It is how the individual functions that is a testament, as to whether he is in good mental health. There is a common misconception that only those in asylums and are in poor mental condition. Anyone can have a slight deviation in their mental state which may affect them. These small deviations are often easy to correct bringing the person back to good mental health (Lantz, 1998, p. 1703-1708).
Emotions are responses to some type of stimulus from our physical and mental faculties (Bhatia, 2009). The brain is a regulator to emotional and mental states. Our emotional responses in turn affect how we respond mentally and physically. Emotional responses generate feelings that may then be reflected physically. When something happens to us, an emotion is generated and, we react physically and mentally depending on the intensity of the feeling. Our reactions also depend on past experiences and personal preferences. For instance, if a person gives you a gift, you feel happiness and hug them in return or you may feel the same happiness, but just smile. The same goes for negative responses; if a person abuses you, you get angry and may hit them or you may walk away to go cool off. Either way, your emotional health has been tampered with.
When someone is in good emotional health, there are some things that they should be able to do. They should be able to react correctly depending on the stimulus. Also they should be able to express emotions and the thoughts evoked by them correctly; also they should have the ability, the mental and physical responses generated (Bhatia, 2009). However, these responses are not constant and differ from individual to individual, depending on their experiences and personalities. The triune's components are connected and should be considered for the body to reach its optimum functionality. Other than the triune, Dr. Bhatia touches on the importance of spiritual health. Almost everyone believes in some spirit, like vital form within them that affects their well being (Bhatia, 2009).
The world health organization defines health, as a state of being in complete mental, physical and social wellness and not just the absence of disease (World Health Organization, 1948, p. 100). This state is reflective in an individual's ability to meet life's challenges and keep functionality at an optimum level. The capacity to do this requires that a person's biochemical, physical and mental makeup, maintain a level that gives positive feedback to the person's body. These health factors are strengthened by adequate diet, adequate exercise and a positive attitude towards life. However, if we neglect these strengthening factors, out body functions will be affected and feedback will be negative. If we understand how the physical, biochemical and mental processes affect the functionality of others, we will be in a better position to control and give our bodies the best tools for optimizing functionality and healing.
The best approach towards ensuring people are healthy is to consider, each person as an individual to avoid misconception of symptoms and as a result, wrong treatment. Health is a great resource in daily life. It is a reinforcing concept to people's physical abilities and resources of personal and social nature. Health also encompasses the level to which, an individual is able to meet requirements of personal and professional importance, achieve goals and, meet personal needs. Also, they should be able to handle themselves satisfactorily in social contexts. Other than this, the individual should be capable of adapting to changing environmental situations and conditions.
Anathallee (2001) describes other aspects of health that have been adapted by Ewles and Simmet (1992) and Aggleton and Homans (1987), in dimensions of health, explicate more detailed aspects in the approach to good health. The physical aspect which is the mechanistic structure and function of the body, the mental aspect which is an individual's ability to judge and think; the emotional aspect which is a person's ability to identify feelings and react adequately to them, the spiritual aspect which is the capability to practice moral or religious beliefs to get peace of mind. The sexual aspect which involves one's ability to express their sexuality satisfactorily, the societal aspect which involves good condition of basic infrastructure that affects an individual's health, environmental aspect which is when one's environment compliments good health, the society aspect which is one's ability to relate to others and maintain this relationship (Anathallee, 2001).
A survey carried out and used by Cox et al. in the Health and Lifestyle Survey (1987), involved incorporating responses from the people interviewed, about what good health is from a major concept (Anathallee, 2001). They had different ideas about good health. it was viewed as being free from disease, being in satisfactory social relationships, ability to function in the society or otherwise, having energy and vitality, being in good physical shape, the body's reserve for needed material and as psycho-social well being (Sarafino 1998, p. 95-97).
Cultural definitions of health, talk about it as a level of mental and physical health that is considered appropriate for a particular society. Health can also be defined from normative perspectives, where there are fixed levels of physical and mental states that are considered healthy. Also, health is defined by assessing functionality of people, especially when performing necessary and compulsory activities. Just like any other concept, health is not a lone state; it depends on outside factors and can be altered by these factors. The environment, food and nutrition and the standards of one's living conditions, are some of the factors that affect health aspects (Davidson, Townsend &Whitehead 1990).
Larson (1991, p.2) stated that five different approaches can be used to define health, which are the medical model, the wellness model, the holistic model, the eclectic model and the environmental model. The medical model talks about an individual's physical health, functioning and illness. The holistic model talks about the whole person and includes social and mental health and puts emphasis on the positive ideas and aspects of health. The wellness model deals with internal feelings of wellbeing that people either have or lack. The environmental model talks about health as part of a larger context of environmental factors. The eclectic model deals with all other documented definitions that do not fit into other categories. For instance, health can be defined as the ability to produce surplus that those in charge of the production means regulate and appropriate (Larson, 1991, p.2).
Based on the model approach of defining health, parameters for determining health are derived. The medical model has used morbidity as a concept to determine health. The level of health in an individual or society is inversely proportional to the deaths or possibility of death in them. This model has also made use of the classification of diseases to measure health in people and society. Diseases can be terminal, communicable, infectious or chronic. A person of a society's health depends on the numbers within these classifications. A person with a terminal disease would be unhealthier than one with a communicable disease. Other measures are indicators of one's functional ability, while suffering from an ailment. For instance can they function despite being ill, are they cured or in remission, are they functional but with some limitations, do they have the capability to care for themselves or are they completely unable to function or care for themselves (Larson, 2001, 2).
Other than viewing health from the perspective of an individual, it can also be viewed from the perspective of what the society has to offer the individual. A healthy society is one that can gives its citizens an easy way to access material and services that are essential to their survival and, enable them to function and contribute the well being of the society. The access to these basic materials should be unrestricted and equal for all. The foundation of a healthy society should be based on provision, maintenance and contribution. Livelihood in a society should be maintained at considerable levels. A good percentage of adults should be able to live independently and in turn the society will be stable.
In addition to societal concepts of health, there are also lay concepts of health. These are also known as folk concepts (Trollope-Kumar & Last). They are conceptual models that societies, individuals and cultures come up with, explanations about causes of diseases and best ways to maintain health. The concepts are often theoretical and derived wider concepts and theories. In addition, they include locally attained knowledge about the body and its reaction to other material. These concepts of health may also, view certain symptoms as having special significance. A common concept in the western world is that the body is like a machine that functions towards a common end, and needs to be kept up beat and functioning effectively.
In the eastern world particularly South Asia and India, health is viewed as a balance between social condition, supernatural elements and physical attributes in an individual (Trollope-Kumar & Last n.d.). Illness, in this case can, result from disturbances or alterations in any sphere connected to the person. The differences on how the body is perceived as being healthy, also brings about differences in the reaction of these individuals to pain and other disease indicators. For instance, chest pain in the western world is often taken very seriously, and regarded as some breakdown in body functions. In Southern Asia, it is treated with the same seriousness, but regarded as a sign of emotional disturbance. These differences in perception of symptoms may lead to delayed diagnosis of serious conditions.
Health is a concept that has many dimensions and measurement of whether someone or something is healthy; it is determined by different aspects which are reflected in the definitions. One parameter ii that physical pain and disability should be absent, as well as, any condition linked with morbidity. Another is that the emotional state of an individual and lastly social functioning that is satisfactory. Australia's health 2010, is the 12th biennial health report of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, it is an informed commentary with information about health determinants, prevention of diseases, variance of health across populations, different health services, differences in health in different life stages, performance of the health sector, the expenditure on health and the workforce for health (Australia's Health 2010).
There are inequalities in the quality of health of individuals. People with higher social class tend to have better health than those in lower ones. These inequalities can be explained by several theories. One is that health and social class often reflect an individual's own social organization. If someone has stable finances, it is likely that his health will be in stable condition too. Another is the principle that the world often uses natural selection to pick the 'haves' and the 'have not'. In addition, social selection is also very apparent (Raphael, 2008, p. 63-94). An individual who is fittest is more likely to succeed at an endeavor and people with higher social class, have more opportunities to succeed.
The opposite of this is also true, poverty and depravation, leads to fewer opportunities to succeed and will be exposed to more risk conditions. There are also differences in behavior and cultural habits demarcated by the difference in social classes. People of higher social class often have a choice on their diet and fitness, while those who are lower eat what they have. Other behaviors like smoking are also higher in some social classes. Access to good health services is also mostly dictated by social classes. Good hospital equipment and qualified health care workers are more readily available for those in a higher social class (Raphael, 2008, p. 63-94).
The social health of a community is often measured by assessing a number of determinants in that society. A society's social health falls under the law and laws in a society must apply to the citizens in equal. In addition, whatever gains the society has made whether monetary or structural, must be distributed to all the society's members, depending on their overall contribution to the generation of these gains. Another determinant is that the decision making process of the society, should be available to all representatives of the society, especially if the decisions are about the distribution and expenditure of the societal resources. This decision making right should be guarded and ensured (Definition of Social health, 2011). Other than determinants that focus on how and what the society can offer its citizens, there are other determinants of health that focus on what how the society's members function as a whole. Some of the indicators used are infant mortality, life expectancy and deaths from childhood injuries.
Other than a community's social health, individual's social health have determinants that give some measure that is to be adhered to. This includes how a person relates to others, how other people relate to the person, how well he conforms to the society's norms, how he fulfills the moral obligations in a society and how he deals with different social situations (Definition of Social health 2011). There are skills that each person has, but most skills of social well being are learned either formally or informally. Some skills are learned from family and the environment and school in the early years of childhood. Others are learned as an individual grows up and matures.
They are determined a lot by a person's personality and experiences. How a person approaches conforming to social norms will be affected or determined by the degree of social skill that he has acquired. It will also be evident in how they relate to others, how they carry themselves out in social situations and their ability and willingness to function as part of a society. When a person is in good social health, physical, emotional and mental health is complimented. If an individual gets ill, the level of support from friends, family and the whole society will lead to a quicker recovery (Definition of Social health 2011). The society also helps individuals deal with emotions and stressful situations which make one's mental health better.
Achievement of optimum health can be made easier by the early laying of foundations of healthy living, healthy eating habits, social skills that help us deal with peer pressure and other emotional challenges and healthy sexual relations. By treating people as unique individuals, care providers will be in a better position to help them get healthy faster. Every person's experience is unique and these experiences determine how the individual relates to aspects of good health. Care givers should take into consideration the history of individuals to know how to make them healthier and to determine what measurement can be used to gauge every individual's health.
Health is a broad issue that has no constant variable. The consistency of health issues comes from everyone being after a common end of adequate functionality, good health and wellness. Definitions of health will no doubt continue to alter and include wider parameters. Subsequently, health of individuals cannot be accurately measured or predicted since there are many aspects that determine it. However, the indicators of health can help one make necessary changes to improve health. Also, statistics can be used to determine whether a society is improving its health status or lagging and point to specific problems to be dealt with in a broader sense.