What Is Health?

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David DicksonWhat is health?

“Health is not an absolute quantity but a concept which is continually changing with the acquisition of knowledge and with changing cultural expectations” (Richardson, 2001). Health is a difficult concept to define and one that provokes much debate. Within this essay I intend to give both a lay and official definition , and to examine the elements that combine to give the overall sense of health, both in the individual and in society as a whole.

Using the lay model, health could be described as an all round sense of well being, both physical and mental. This is perhaps best summarised by the World Health Organisation’s 1946 definition “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (cited in Richardson, 1994). This suggests that health is not only an holistic concept, but one with many facets.

Moreover, not only is the concept of health not restricted to physical, it can also be seen to have a social aspect; “Firstly one‘s relationships with other individuals…This includes different and appropriate levels of interaction” (Wray, 2010). Closely linked to social health is the notion of “intellectual health” (Wray, 2010). Indeed, Naidoo et al suggests that it is possible for an individual to suffer from disease but still be considered healthy if they possessed the “wholeness or integrity, inner strength to cope” (Williams cited in Naidoo et al 1994). Further to this it can be argued that robust intellectual health can prevent physical illness; “Indeed mental illness may manifest itself as physical symptoms, such as palpitations…all of which could be symptoms of several physical illnesses” (Moonie et al, 2007).

However, whilst the social and intellectual aspects of health are critical to both the lay and official view of health, they can be viewed as abstract concepts and are often subjective. Conversely, the physical dimension of health is...
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