Definitions of Health and Illness

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Working definitions of health and illness, although generalized, can give perspective. Traditionally they have been defined as opposites.

sick illness child baby

An example is the definition given by the United Nations World Health Organization : Health is a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease. The only option in the absence of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, according to such a definition, is illness. No allowance is made for degrees of illness and wellness.
Dunn defines health and illness on a graduated scale or continuum : Each person has neither absolute health nor illness but is in an everchanging state of being, ranging from peak or “high-level” wellness to extreme poor health with death imminent.
Health / wellness and disease / illness are now thought of as complex, dynamic processes on a continuum that includes physical, psychological, spiritual, and social components and adaptive behavioral responses to internal and external stimuli. Health is dependent on genetic and environmental influences that either help or hinder an individual in actively fulfilling his needs and reaching his highest health potential. The emotionally healthy person generally shows behavior congruent with events within or around him. Key concepts in health / wellness include homeostasis, adaption, dynamic nature of health-illness continuum, influence of influence of internal and external environment, comfort, safety, social relationships, and prevention of disease, disability, and social decay.
The definition of “disease” has progressed through several stages. Primitive people saw disease as an independent force that dominates and eventually overtakes the victim. Next, the medical-physiological view interpreted man as an active being with ability to resist disease attact. The ecological definition looks at the environmental influence on health, while the equilibrium view emphasizes ineffective attempts to maintain homeostasis or adaptation. Last, the social approach defines illness in terms of whether the person is performing expected social functions.
Illness is an experience that exists when there is a disturbance or failure in the biopsychosocial development of person. He experiences observable or felt changes in the body with discomfort or impaired ability to carry out minimal physical, physiological, or psychosocial behavioral expectations. Sullivan`s definition of mental or emotional illness corresponds to the above in that such illness is manifested as inappropriate or inadequate behavior in social contexts.
Health is a purposeful, adaptive response, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially, to internal and external stimuli in order to maintain stability and comfort; and illness is a disturbed adaptive response to internal and external stimuli resulting in disequilibrium and inability to utulize the usual health-promoting resources. Man, and the references he and his, are sometimes used in the universal sense to connote either male or female.
References :
Murray, RB and Zentner JP., Nursing Concepts for Health Promotion, Second Edtion, Prentice-Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, N.J, 1979
Dunn, Halbert L., High-Level Wellness, Washington, D.C.: Mount Vernon Publishing Company, Inc., 1961.
Beland, Irene L., Clinical Nursing: Pathophysiological and Psychosocial Approaches. London : The Macmillan Company, 1971.
King, Imogene M., Toward a Theory of Nursing, New York : John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1971.
Romano, John, “Basic Orientation and Education of the Medical Student,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 1950.
Beeson, Gerald, “The Health-Illness Spectrum,” American Journal of Public Health, 1967.
Wu, Ruth, Behavior and Illness. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973.
Sullivan, Harry S., Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry. New York : W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,1953.

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