What is Health?


Psychology and Sociology Definitions

Sociology as applied to medicine definition:

- the scientific study of society

- sociology involves questioning our taken for granted assumptions about the world we live in


- scientific study of mind and behaviour (American Psychological Association)

- can understand health behaviour, effective health promotion and intervention, understand the links between physical health and psychological health

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definitions, beliefs, determinants

Positive def: as a state of wellbeing/being fit, strong, full of life, Negative def: absence of disease/illness

Determinants: Biomedical model, Biopsychosocial model

Health and lifestle survey (Blaxter 1990) - negative, positive, functional definitions

Lay Health Beliefs

  • individuals have beliefs in form of explanatory models about their health and illness
  • shaped by personal experiences, media, education, culture and traditions, medical encounters, formal sources of info
  • can be dismissed by professionals but is IMPORTANT
  • helps us get why people make certain decision, and the health related behaviour amongst different social groups

WHO Definition - a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease/infirmity

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WHO definition of health

  • social and psychological is just as important biological
  • emphasises positive aspects of health
  • difficult to measure and impossible to achieve
  • idealised definition of health
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Biomedical model

  • disease the result of deviations from the norm of measurable somatic variables
  • Features
  • Mind/body dualism
  • mechanical metaphor
  • technological imperative
  • reductionist
  • doctrine of specific aetiology

Limitations - Engel

  • doesn't account for the major health threats of today
  • body is isolated from the person - treats the disease rather than the whole person
  • social, psychological and material causes of disease are neglected
  • gives doctors a lot of power and patients very little
  • overstates the contribution of medical intervention to decline in mortality rate
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Disease, illness, sickness definition

  • a pathologic process, biological/undertemined in origin, judged to be a deviation from a biological norm evident through abnormalities in the structure/function of the body, observed through signs/symptoms
  • Disease can be influenced by social, cultural, biological factors e.g:
  • homosexuality, schizophrenia, anorexia, squint


- subjective experience of feeling unwell - Radley 1993 - experiences of disease including feelings relating to changes in bodily states, consequences of having to bear ailment, a way of being for the individual concerned


- social role of those defined as diseased/ill

- Morrall 2009 - two processes of feeling ill and being diagnosed as diseased, social role following a diagnosis, obligations and rights society confers on diseased individuals

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Biopsychosocial model


- genetic variation, bacteria, viruses

Psychological factors: 

- behavioural and mental processes, involving cognition, emotion, and motivation

Social factors:

- family, community and society factors

- e.g. work and housing conditions, companionship/isolation, support/lack of support, gender, ethnicity, class

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