What is difficult in defining what being healthy means? At a glance, it seems to be so easy, and being healthy simply means the absence of some diseases, normal functioning of all systems in the human body.
However, there is another way to look at the question and define health. According to the definition of the World Health Organization, health means “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
So, how should we think about health? Various concepts of human health are trying to explain this. In my essay, I will discuss two concepts: a concept of mental health and a holistic concept of health, will also take a general look at the concepts of human health, and explain what they mean to me.
Classical views on health can be summarized as follows – health is “a bodily state which is in accordance with Nature” (Nordenfelt 15). What it means is that, first of all, a healthy person lives in harmony and balance with nature and the world. What is more, according to the teachings of some ancient philosophers such as Aristotle, four basic elements that nature consists of (water, fire, earth, and air) are also present in the human body.
The holistic concept of health, which I am going to discuss, shares classical views. Holistic medicine does not view a disease just as a result of some physical problems, but rather as a result of social, emotional, environmental, and spiritual imbalance (Nordenfelt 35). Thus, when a holistic physician treats a patient, he would look at all these aspects in order to provide effective healing.
Why is it important to understand what a concept of mental health is all about? The thing is that for many centuries, mental illnesses were considered to be just another form of body illness or simply were explained by the influence of gods or demons. Only at the end of the 18th century, some doctors realized that mental diseases had nothing to do with a body and were completely different from other forms of illnesses (Caplan, McCartney, Sisti 111).
What do people think about mental illnesses nowadays? How do modern physicians make distinctions between body and mental disorders and diseases? I will try to give the answers in my essay.
What do concepts of human health mean to me? From my point of view, they help to understand oneself better, and not only from a pure perspective of physical health. I agree with the definition of health provided by the World Health Organization, although it may sound a bit utopian. I believe that physical health means more than just a state when nothing aches, your arms and legs are not broken. The inside state of a person, feelings and emotions, our general satisfaction or dissatisfaction with our lives, our place in society – all these aspects make good or bad health. Have you ever noticed that a person who is just unhappy for some reason also complains about health, although everything might be all right with his/her physical state? Studying various concepts of human health can help to answer any questions and, probably, give a hint on how to make life better.
A Concept of Mental Health
In modern medicine, mental health is, probably, one of the most ambiguous and hard to define notions. It is one of the main reasons why mental health may have so many definitions. Mainly, these definitions are created out of convenience by people of different professions, for instance, people working in some government agencies will have a bit different understanding of mental health than scientists.
However, I still want to provide one of the possible definitions of mental health given by the author Jahoda in her book – “it is a relatively constant and enduring function of personality or a momentary function of personality and situation” (8). The first definition describes a person who can be more or less healthy; the second one describes actions that can be referred to as more or less healthy (Jahoda 8). This is what the ambiguity of mental health is all about. Somebody may talk about it as an enduring characteristic or condition, while others may talk about it as a momentary condition.
Another controversy of mental health boils down to such notions as a mental illness caused by some brain disease and mental illness caused by the hardships of our life itself.
It is obvious that a mental illness caused by such brain disease as brain syphilis, for instance, cannot be classified as an illness of the mind, but rather as just another form of a body disease (Caplan, McCartney, Sisti 44).
What about mental illnesses that are not caused by brain diseases? It is not a secret that nowadays people can “go mad” just because of various stresses and difficulties they face in daily life. Yet, what does a mental illness mean in this context? It will mean a disharmony in one’s life, some odd behavior, or deformity of the personality (Caplan, McCartney, Sisti 45). This is what a mental illness will mean in this context, but in this situation, we face another controversy.
If a mental illness in this respect is described as odd human behavior, it means that this behavior is simply not appropriate in a particular society and does not correspond to its norms and rules. Here, one important question arouses – who creates those norms and rules and what behavior is considered to be normal, and why? What criteria and why are they chosen to define someone’s mental illness?
A Holistic Concept of Health
At the beginning of my essay, I have explained briefly what a holistic concept says about health. It states that various factors such as the physical, psychological, social needs of a person should be viewed as a whole when talking about health. What it means is that holistic physicians view their patients not just as an example of some disease, but as unique personalities whose health depends greatly on numerous inside and outside factors.
Therefore, holistic physicians are sure that not only physical manifestations of a disease in a patient should be treated. They suggest that treatment should be organized not only on an individual level but even on social and cultural levels.
As I have already said, such an approach to treating diseases seems to me rather logical, although I agree that changing society or culture to cure somebody sounds a bit unrealistic.
With this in mind, I want to discuss a holistic concept of health starting on the individual level, from the perspective of basic human needs. Many philosophers agree that one’s ability to fulfill basic human needs is one of the factors, which may affect health and well-being (Nordenfelt 57).
First, it is necessary to define what basic human needs mean. Sure, every individual might have their own set of basic needs, something that is necessary for normal living and well-being. This is why such a notion as basic needs is ambiguous as well.
Let me give you an example that Nordenfelt provides in his book (59). In a particular situation and circumstance, John needs a hammer to repair his house. Yet, under different circumstances, for example, when Steve is hammering, John might not need a hammer anymore. What this example shows is that 1) needs may change with time, depending on various situations, and 2) needs can be classified as general needs and basic human needs.
Certainly, if we are talking about health, it is necessary to view basic human needs, something that living and health could be impossible. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs perfectly illustrates what needs are vital, are significant for health, and are simply important for a normal living (Nordenfelt 60).
What can be said in the conclusion? First of all, concepts of human health prove once again that health is one of the biggest and precious human values. The more we learn and know about our health, the more chances we have to make our lives happier, brighter, and longer.
Second, health itself is a complex and multifaceted concept. Health cannot be described or defined precisely in a few words. A great variety of factors make good or bad health. You cannot be called a completely healthy person if a heart or head does not ache, but you feel inside discomfort or you face constant stresses, or you are deprived of some things that are important for normal living and well-being.
Finally, what is the most important aspect of living a healthy life? From my point of view, it is a desire to live and be healthy. Why are some patients called terminally ill? The main reason boils down not only to their medical conditions, which really can be very serious. However, I suppose that such patients simply see no sense of their life. Their life becomes meaningless. And, even if they have a minimal chance to survive, it is killed by their negative thoughts and decadent mood.
Caplan, Arthur L., McCartney, James J., Sisti, Dominic A. Health, Disease, and Illness: Concepts in Medicine. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2004.
Jahoda, Marie. Current Concepts of Positive Mental Health. North Stratford: Ayer Company Publishers, 1999.
Nordenfelt, Lennart. On the Nature of Health: An Action-Theoretic Approach. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995.