In 2015, the population of the United States (U.S.) spent an estimated $3.2 trillion on healthcare costs.
However, despite this expenditure, a study by the U.S. National Research Council, published in 2013, showed that Americans die at a younger age and experience more illness and injury than people in other developed countries.
Good health is central to handling stress and living a long and active life.
Here are some key points about health. More detail is in the main article.
- Health can be defined as physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and as a resource for living a full life.
- It refers not only to the absence of disease, but the ability to recover and bounce back from illness and other problems.
- Factors for good health include genetics, the environment, relationships, and education.
- A healthful diet, exercise, screening for diseases, and coping strategies can all enhance a person's health.
What is health?
Health is not just absence of disease but a state of overall wellbeing.
In 1948, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined health with a phrase that is still used today.
"Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." WHO, 1948.
In 1986, the WHO further clarified that health is:
"A resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities."
This means that health is a resource to support an individual's function in wider society. A healthful lifestyle provides the means to lead a full life.
More recently, researchers have defined health as the ability of a body to adapt to new threats and infirmities. They base this on the idea that modern science has dramatically increased human awareness of diseases and how they work in the last few decades.
Mental and physical health are the two most commonly discussed types of health. We also talk about "spiritual health," "emotional health," and "financial health," among others. These have also been linked to lower stress levels and mental and physical wellbeing.
In a person who experiences physical health, bodily functions are working at peak performance, due not only to a lack of disease, but also to regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and adequate rest. We receive treatment, when necessary, to maintain the balance.
Physical wellbeing involves pursuing a healthful lifestyle to decrease the risk of disease. Maintaining physical fitness, for example, can protect and develop the endurance of a person's breathing and heart function, muscular strength, flexibility, and body composition.
Physical health and well-being also help reduce the risk of an injury or health issue. Examples include minimizing hazards in the workplace, practicing safe sex, practicing good hygiene, or avoiding the use of tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs.
Mental healthrefers to a person's emotional, social, and psychological wellbeing. Mental health is as important as physical health to a full, active lifestyle.
It is harder to define mental health than physical health, because, in many cases, diagnosis depends on the individual's perception of their experience. With improvements in testing, however, some signs of some types of mental illness are now becoming "visible" in CT scans and genetic testing.
Mental health is not only the absence of depression, anxiety, or another disorder.
It also depends on the ability to:
- enjoy life
- bounce back after difficult experiences
- achieve balance
- adapt to adversity
- feel safe and secure
- achieve your potential
Physical and mental health are linked. If chronic illness affects a person's ability to complete their regular tasks, this may lead to depression and stress, for example, due to money problems.
A mental illness such as depression or anorexia nervosa can affect body weight and function.
It is important to approach "health" as a whole, rather than its different types.
Factors for good health
Health depends on a wide range of factors.
A person is born with a range of genes, and in some people, an unusual genetic pattern can lead to a less-than-optimum level of health.
Environmental factors play a role. Sometimes the environment alone is enough to impact health. Other times, an environmental trigger can cause illness in a person who is genetically susceptible.
Access to healthcare plays a role, but the WHO suggests that the following factors may have a bigger impact on health than this:
- where a person lives
- the state of the surrounding environment
- education level
- relationships with friends and family
These can be summarized as:
- The social and economic environment: Including how wealthy a family or community is
- The physical environment: Including parasites that exist in an area, or pollution levels
- The person's characteristics and behaviors: Including the genes that a person is born with and their lifestyle choices
According to the WHO, the higher a person's socioeconomic status (SES), the more likely they are to enjoy good health, a good education, a well-paid job, afford good healthcare when their health is threatened.
People with a lower socioeconomic status are more likely to experience stresses related to daily living, such as financial difficulties, marital disruption, and unemployment, as well as social factors, such as marginalization and discrimination. All these add to the risk of poor health.
A low socio-economic status often means less access to healthcare. People in developed countries with universal healthcare services have longer life expectancies than people in developed countries without universal healthcare.
Cultural issues can affect health. The traditions and customs of a society and a family's response to them can have a good or bad impact on health. For example, around the Mediterranean, people are more likely to consume high levels of fruits, vegetables, and olive, and to eat as a family, compared with cultures with a high consumption of fast food.
How a person manages stress will affect health. People who smoke, drink, or take drugs to forget their problems are likely to have more health problems later than someone who combats stress through a healthful diet and exercise.
Men and women are prone to different health factors. In societies where women earn less than men or are less educated, they may be at greater risk than men for poor health.
The best way to maintain health is to preserve it through a healthful lifestyle, rather than waiting until we are sick to put things right.
This state of enhanced well-being is referred to as wellness.
The McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois IL defines wellness as:
"A state of optimal well-being that is oriented toward maximizing an individual's potential. This is a life-long process of moving towards enhancing your physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and environmental well-being."
Wellness promotes an active awareness of and participation in health, as an individual and in the community.
Maintaining wellness and optimal health is a lifelong, daily commitment.
Steps that can help us maximize our health include:
- a balanced, nutritious diet, sourced as naturally as possible
- regular exercising
- screening for diseases that may present a risk
- learning to manage stress
- engaging in activities that provide purpose and connection to others
- maintaining a positive outlook and appreciating what you have
- defining a value system, and putting it into action
Peak health will be different for each person, and how you achieve wellness may be different from how someone else does.
It may not be possible to avoid disease completely, but doing as much as we can to develop resilience and prepare the body and mind to deal with problems as they arise is a step we can all take.
It is Mental Health Awareness month, and I began to contemplate what mental health means to me.
Mental health and wellness is the state at which one feels, thinks, and behaves. Mental health can be viewed on a continuum, starting with an individual who is mentally well and free of any impairment in his or her daily life, while someone else might have mild concerns and distress, and another might have a severe mental illness.
Everyone has “stuff” that they keep contained in a tightly sealed plastic bag. There are some who occasionally can’t help but let the “stuff” leak, and there are those with the bag wide open.
However, in our society, we still tend to stigmatize those who let their “stuff” leak out instead of helping them, understanding them, or simply not judging them. Just as we all know someone with cancer, we all know someone with a mental health disorder.
Mental health is just as vital as physical health. In reality, the two coexist and should not be treated separately. There are many mental health disorders that exacerbate physical concerns or disorders, and vice versa.
For instance, someone who suffers from chronic migraines might also suffer from an anxiety disorder. Obesity contributes to the severity of symptoms of depression. Poor anger management is associated with high blood pressure. Behind every medical illness, it is possible to find a mental health concern as well.
It is also possible that a boost to mental health can alleviate symptoms of a medical condition. As an example, those who receive art therapy or pet therapy in hospitals are shown to have a speedier recovery than those without, as well as a decrease in severity of symptoms experienced.
A holistic approach for individuals needs to be the standard. Physicians, nurses, dentists, psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health counselors, and other mental health professionals need to collaborate to provide a complete treatment plan. A medical doctor who doles out prescriptions for irritable bowel syndrome also can refer the patient to a therapist for stress management. A dentist whose patient is suffering from extreme anxiety can have a mental health professional onsite or have one to whom to refer the patient. A psychologist can suggest that his patient see a specialist for any symptoms that can be contributing to his or her eating disorder.
As reported by the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 26 percent of the adult U.S. population has a mental health disorder, with over 22 percent of cases being considered “severe.” Mental health disorders include anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, eating disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, and schizophrenia.
Still, only 1 in 3 individuals will seek treatment for his or her disorder. It’s as if only 1 in 3 individuals who suffered from a high fever or a broken bone sought out a doctor.
We tend to view mental health as something that is an illusion, “all in one’s head,” or that certain disorders are overdiagnosed. Has anyone ever exclaimed that “cancer is overdiagnosed”? Yet, I have heard countless times that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is being diagnosed too loosely in children and adolescents.
This month is to advocate for the awareness of mental health; however, it should be a consistent concern. Recent events have brought mental health awareness to the surface. We need to know what that means. This does not mean all catastrophic events are caused by those who are mentally ill and therefore we need better treatments. In fact, statistics show that those who are severely mentally ill are more likely to be victimized than to do harm.
It is easy to blame or stigmatize a certain group when events that cannot be understood occur and we grasp for any bit of reasoning we can. But it is neither accurate nor fair. This is the time that we educate ourselves and become properly informed, and develop compassion and understanding.
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