Health is a state of complete well-being: physical, mental, and emotional. This definition emphasizes the importance of being more than disease free, and recognizes that a healthy body depends upon a healthy environment and a stable mind. Medicine is the social institution that diagnoses, treats, and prevents disease. To accomplish these tasks, medicine depends upon most other sciences—including life and earth sciences, chemistry, physics, and engineering. Preventive medicine is a more recent approach to medicine, which emphasizes health habits that prevent disease, including eating a healthier diet, getting adequate exercise, and insuring a safe environment.
Sociology assumes that a functioning society depends upon healthy people and upon controlling illness. In examining social constructs of health and illness, sociologist Talcott Parsons identified what he called “the sick role,” or the social definition of, the behavior of, and the behavior toward those whom society defines as ill. Parsons identified four components to the sick role.
The sick person is
* Not held responsible for being sick.
* Not responsible for normal duties.
* Not supposed to like the role.
* Supposed to seek help to get out of the role.
Society allows those who fulfill these criteria to assume the sick role, but society loses sympathy for and denies the role to those who appear to like it or those who do not seek treatment. In other cases, family and friends may show sympathy for a while, but lose patience with the victim and assume he or she is seeking attention or is a hypochondriac.
Although many believe that science alone determines illness, this sociological view points out that society determines sickness as well. For example, the culture defines diseases as legitimate if they have a clear “scientific” or laboratory diagnosis, such as cancer or heart disease. In the past, society considered conditions such as... [continues]
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