The World Health Organisation defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.
Whilst studying ‘health’ psychology some 20 yrs ago I found myself vehemently challenging this definition. I was adverse to this notion of complete health as I saw it as discriminatory against a large proportion of the worlds population…how many of our friends, colleagues and family members do we know who have ‘complete health’? And if they are ‘the lucky few’ how does this set them apart from those who do not? And for those who have ‘illness’ but see themselves as healthy and ‘complete’ how does this undermine their perception of themselves. Are we being encouraged through this notion of complete health to chase something unattainable…giving us something to focus on in our ever longer lives?
Children who are labelled from a young age as being ‘unhealthy’, having ill health, in all the above forms, can grow up thinking they are lesser than those around them who have not got that label. Sometimes perceiving that they have to work harder than others to be recognised as good enough or perhaps give up trying and become what they are said to be ‘incomplete’! This definition only serves to separate the perceived good from the bad…the healthy from the unhealthy.
Health to me is a state of being. It is not a completeness but how an individual defines themselves, how one copes with what comes our way by way of illness or social circumstance. . I say this after a life time of ‘ill health’ but still see myself as physically, mentally and socially healthy, how lucky am I. The WHO and its counterparts choose to define me rather than me defining me.
What an amazing world this would be if we all had complete health or perhaps were it not defined at all and we were recognised for our strengths and abilities rather than our bodies failings setting us apart.
Our great health institution manage people’s health but not in an holistic way such as is defined by the WHO more about that tomorrow.