Health and Illness can only be understood when taking into account their social and cultural context. Discuss

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   The Psychology of Health 1:

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3) Health and Illness can only be understood when taking into account their social and cultural context. Discuss

The definition of the words ‘health’ and ‘illness’ can’t be taken for granted while they mean different things to different people. Some people who fell able to walk around the house without feeling much pain from arthritis would consider their condition healthy: on the other hand however a person who is in an excellent physical and mental condition wouldn’t accept the former as “healthy”. It is obvious therefore, the classification of ‘illness’ is basically contested, that is, there is no agreement about what is considered to be an illness. The World Health Organisation (WHO), for instance classifies health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and asocial well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’ Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being is very difficult to achieve according to Banyard (1996). This definition doesn’t take into account wider social, political and economic factors. It means that people who are not fulfilled are as well not healthy.

Health and illness has to be considered inside a specific socio-political, cultural and interactive background. It is common belief that all can explain what health and illness are, but yet the matter is not as simple as it appears. Cultural context should be taken into account while dealing with health and illness issues. In the past decade the world has undergone vast political, technological, and economic upheavals. The proportion of people who die from infectious diseases has fallen, the proportion who die from cancer and cardiovascular disease has risen. In most countries (with a number of tragic exceptions), life expectancy has risen, the proportion of people over 60 has increased, and the maladies of old age have become more important (Murray and Lopez 1996).

From the 17th century to the first decades of the 20th century illness was believed to be unavoidable. Some people believed that it was the work of the devil. Until the Second World War, doctors were able to do little to affect the course of most diseases, but their services were still in great demand. People had a tendency to die of acute illnesses for instance influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis. Nowadays the illnesses that trouble societies are Chronic, such as Cancer, Heart disease and diabetes. Still, although these diseases can’t be healed, they are managed. The bio-medical model views physical illness as being related to an exact pathogen (disease-causing organism). The bio-medical model has dealt effectively with Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, measles and chicken pox. Chronic diseases need a broader model so as to explain the causal factors and possible ways of dealing with such diseases.

The prevailing view of illness shared by many official health practitioners such as doctors, consultants and surgeons has been labelled the ‘Biomedical Aproach’ or the ‘Medical Model’. This view of illness achieved importance in the late 19th century in Britain. The medical model mainly supposes that illness is caused by bacteria, which means that the cause of illness can be identified. So the previous belief that illness is a result of an evil spirit entering the body has vanished completely. Illness can be identified and classified into dissimilar kinds, for instance diseases of the nervous system. Illnesses are recognized by medical officials, for instance doctors and not ‘lay’ people. The diagnosis of the symptoms is comparatively objective. Illnesses are quite self-evident and the majority of illnesses can be treated and cured. Although the medical model is claimed to dominate the health professions, the main assumptions of it are not held by all doctors, nurses and consultants, and some of the suppositions may be supposed to different degrees. The bio medical model sustains that the individual is healthy if the body is in normal working order. This of course has lots of weaknesses because in old age one experiences a lot of unlikeable symptoms so far this is perfectly normal and blind people would consider themselves as healthy .The biomedical model claims that diseases come from outside the body, attack the body and cause physical changes within the body. Such diseases are caused by a quantity of factors which include chemical imbalances, bacteria, viruses and genetic predisposition.

Another model, the Biopsychosocial model, recommends that health is seen as not inactive.  Health can be characterised on a health-illness range. The model highlights the relation among psychological factors and illness. Human beings should be seen as multifaceted systems and illness is caused by a huge number of factors and not by a single underlying factor. Health psychology consequently tends to move away from a straightforward linear model of health and claims that illness can be caused by a mixture of biological (e.g. a virus), psychological (e.g. behaviours, beliefs) and social (e.g. employment) factors. Engel (1977, 1980) developed the bio psychosocial model of health and illness which reflects this approach. An effort was made to bring the psychological and the environmental models, called bio psychosocial model, together into the traditional biomedical model of health: some of the causative bio factors contain genetics, viruses, bacteria and structural defects. The health and illness psycho aspects have been described in terms of cognitions (e.g. health expectation), emotions (e.g. the way fear is treated) and behaviours (e.g. smoking, diets, exercise or alcohol consumption). The other aspects social of health ,the social ones, were studied in terms of social standards  of behaviour (e.g. the socially accepted standards  of smoking or not smoking), pressures for behaviour change (e.g. examine group expectations, parental demands), social principles on health (e.g. whether health was regarded as a good or a bad thing), social group and ethnicity. The psychosocial model demands for the whole person to be treated, not just the physical changes that have occurred. This can be achieved through studying behaviour change, encouraging changes in beliefs and coping strategies, and conformity with medical requirements.

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It was the fashion some while ago to see diseases as lifestyle choices, to be fixed by persuading people to live differently--eat less fatty foods, give up smoking, straighten up and fly right. This is no longer so. We have now attended to the analyses (Marmot et al. 1997) that link health and disease directly with social status and social capital. Smokers die sooner, yes, but something about being poor disposes to smoking. Social stresses are manifested in pathology. Values like trust, hope and control of one's own life become vital.

The Marmot studies of British public ...

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