Defining illness,sickness and disease

Health, Illness, Disease and Sickness: Understanding What They Really Mean

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Health, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is the total physical, mental and social well-being and not the mere absence of disease and infirmity. Being healthy is encompassing as it is the physical, social, mental and emotional well being of an individual and not limited to the freedom from illness, sickness or disease.

The definition of health is complex, cultural (differs from one place to another) and varies with time (differs in one historical period to another). What is seen as ill-health to some people is seen as normal to others. In Africa and some non-western countries, health includes freedom from spiritual attacks and wants. A person is therefore said to be healthy in these cultures when he/she is free from disease, malfunctioning of the body parts, anxiety, stress, sadness, poverty, afflictions, need and spiritual attacks which could be from the enemies or as a result of disobedience to gods or deities. In western countries, health is defined in relation to physical and mental well being. The social component is not included. In the olden days, a fat person is seen as healthy and someone enjoying the good things of life while the slim individual is seen as unhealthy and malnourished. This is no more the case in the contemporary days, a robust and fat individual, who was once seen as healthy, is now seen as unhealthy and regarded as ‘obese’ while a slim person is seen as normal and healthy.

Differences between disease, illness and Sickness

The three concepts- disease, illness and sickness are different but related. Many people use the terms interchangeably which ought not to be so. Disease is the deviation of the normal functioning of the body parts. It is when the part of a living organism stops performing its functions. Illness is the abnormal biological afflictions or mental disorder that has a cause, symptoms and method of treatment. Illness is what a sick person feels which also include some characteristics patterns (symptoms) and other feelings associated with the illness. The doctor sees the disease while the sick person feels the illness. A sick person feels symptoms like headache, high temperature, dizziness- illness and the doctor sees and categorise these symptoms as malaria-disease.

Illness is private, biological and known to an individual. The feelings associated with illness are similar from one place to another. People all over the world feel the same way when they have malaria. Illness is not influenced by culture because it is similar in all forms of culture. Sickness is the social and public component of illness. This is when the illness is now known to other people apart from the patient. Illness turns to sickness when there is public awareness to another person or persons. Illness becomes public through the announcement by the patient, diagnosis by the physicians and care given by family members, friends and members of the society.

Sickness is social in that the sick person is identified and accepted as being sick. Such person is expected to enter the “sick role” where duties and obligations are relinquished without being questioned or held responsible. Also in the sick role, a sick person is expected to seek medical attention and physician’s advices are to be strictly obeyed, medications and prescriptions are to be adhered to for quick recovery. A patient should not linger in the sick role. The process by which a sick person refuse to come out of the sick role by pretending not to have recovered of the illness as a result of laziness and not wanting to resume the relinquished responsibilities is known as “malingering”. It is frowned at in the society.

Sickness has social implications on the society. A vacuum is left when a sick person leaves his social roles for sick roles. For instance, a sick child will leave his/her house chores for other siblings which will lead to more chores for them. A sick teacher will be given sick leave so as to recover. During this period, another teacher or teacher(s) will assumed the duties which might be overwhelming for them. Due to the need for a balanced social space, a sick person is expected to enter the sick role for treatment and then come out of it instead of malingering. A good health should be maintained and sought after. The presence of members of the society, family members can hasten recovery.

To achieve the overall wellness, all dimensions of health must be in a good state and interact with one another. They are the physical, social, economic, psychological/mental, spiritual, emotional, environment components of health. Physical wellness entails the care of the body, eating of balanced diet, water, fruits, exercise and avoidance of harmful substances that might impede health. Social well-being is the ability to have a smooth and healthy relationship with others. The ability to cope with and overcome life challenges, stress and anxiety and the ability to bring out the positive attitudes like joy and happiness out of the negative ones is associated with the emotional and psychological component of health.

The economic dimension deals with the ability to have the primary needs-food, clothing and shelter. It also includes having the necessary resources to meet needs and live a good life. An environment is healthy when it is clean, safe and void of harmful substances, diseases and dangerous animals. Freedom from spiritual afflictions, unexplainable diseases, attacks from enemies and punishment from gods is known as spiritual well-being.

Health is central to one’s life and it brings happiness and fulfillment. Many factors lead to diverse conceptualization of health and these factors influence health status. The social, physical and economy circumstances, income, social class, biological make up are some factors. What is seen as illness to the rich is seen as normal to the poor. This may be due to ignorance, illiteracy, poverty and social status. The child of a lower class citizen is seen as healthy even with symptoms such as headache and high temperature, for as long as the child is playing and running around. The parents might ignore the fact that the child is ill because of their financial status or inaccessibility to health care system. On the other hand, the child of the rich or high class citizen with slight ache is taken to the best hospital.

The health care system of this nation does not encourage people, especially, the poor. Clinics and dispensaries are absent in the villages and the available ones are many miles away from them and not affordable. The attitudes of some medical practitioners also drive people away from hospitals. They are believed to be partial, rude and without mercy. Man must live a healthy lifestyle, treat illnesses as they arise, clinics must be made available in remote areas with necessary medical equipment and the practitioners must know the values of their occupation. In short, all hands must be on deck to fight again diseases and achieve good health.

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1 thought on “Health, Illness, Disease and Sickness: Understanding What They Really Mean”

  1. Sammy (not verified)

    Health, Illness, Disease and Sickness: Understanding What They
    Hi there! This article could not be written much better! Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept talking about this. I will send this post to him. Fairly certain he’s going to have a good read. Many thanks for sharing

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