Health And Illness

Submitted By Jessie-Dhaliwal
Words: 3242
Pages: 13

Health and illness are two of the most difficult words to define; philosophers, politicians, various literacy critics, medics and the general public all have different interpretations of the terms health and illness. The World Health Organization has a simple definition of health as follows: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. When the elements of this definition are not fulfilled then the individual may be regarded as ill. However there are many other definitions of health and illness, some of which only take into account the bodily functions whereas others take into account a lot more, such as a person’s social situation.
The medical approach to health is to think of the body as a machine, and a body is seen as healthy if all the organs of the body, including the mind, are working properly with no abnormalities. Any abnormal symptoms of the body or ineffective functioning of the body is seen as a sick or unhealthy body. Therefore a medical professional’s definition of health would be the absence of disease and high levels of function of the human body. With a medical approach, if someone is seen as ill, a professional may prescribe drugs or advise surgery to redeem healthiness in an individual. In contrast a member of the general public may see healthy over a wider spectrum than a medic, taking into account a person’s social wellbeing as well as a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. A member of the general public will most likely take into account a person’s whole lifestyle whilst determining whether a person is ill or healthy, including their fitness levels, social class, mental wellbeing, eating habits, sleeping habits, as well as whether an individual carries any sickness or diseases. To a medic someone with diabetes will be deemed as ill due to the pancreas not working effectively, however to a regular person they may be seen as healthy despite having the condition as they can still carry out regular every day activities. Likewise, an overweight person may be seen as healthy by a medical professional if they have no overlaying problems, whereas a general member of the public may describe them as unhealthy or unfit due to lack of fitness and eating habits.

Different illnesses and diseases attract different forms of attention, some are stigmatised whilst others are approached with sympathy. Illnesses that generally attract sympathy include type 1 diabetes, heart related illnesses such as coronary heart disease and cancer. However even some of these are stigmatised in ways, for example coronary heart disease can be a result of unhealthy eating and lung cancer can be a result of smoking over a long period of time. A number of stigmatised illnesses include leprosy, mental illness, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, obesity and drug and alcoholism. Recent research has proved that in the case of epilepsy that it can be more difficult for sufferers to manage the social stigma than the actual seizures caused by the condition. Other research has shown that in the case of HIV/AIDS, the stigma liked to these diseases can limit access to treatments and also affect sufferer’s relationships and identities. If a person became infected with HIV, whether homosexual or heterosexual, there is a tendency for some to blame the illness on lack of caution in using protection during sexual relations. Therefore they are sometimes seen as responsible for their illness and not seen as deserving of sympathy. This is similar to sexually transmitted diseases. Even now there are those who view HIV, AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases not as a sickness but as a punishment. Dr B Weiner wrote in article Sin or Sickness “Perceptions of controllability and personal responsibility mediate reactions of sympathy and anger”. The diagnosis of mental health continues to attract substantial stigma in today’s western society. Similarly, the mental