Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is an “uneven condition of the body that can be neither improved nor prevented” and is a condition that is associated with a collection of pathological conditions. Various definitions have been use for many different purposes over the years. The dictionary definition of health is “the condition of the human body at the time of its reproduction.” But other meanings are “life” and “proper functioning.” Today, the word health is often used in conjunction with the word life, particularly in reference to an individual’s health, well-being or quality of life. Although it has always been used to refer to a person’s qualities of life, health is now increasingly considered a subset of life, focusing on the measures and prevention of premature death and other disorders and ailments that prolong life.
In its strictest sense, the definition of health is the absence of illness and disease. Although there is some debate among medical researchers over what diseases and illnesses constitute a definition of good health, most agree that it includes absence from serious illness or disease, and the ability to participate and follow a standard of care. Other common definitions of good health include well-being, vitality, and resilience. Another frequently used term is quality of life, which includes the ability to enjoy day-to-day activities, participation in community activities, personal hygiene, and personal care.
The third definition of health is also the most controversial. According to this definition, health is a function of the capacity to heal. Because some diseases may not always be curable, it is not always necessary to treat them, even if they are in an acute stage. This third definition of health is the root of much of the controversy surrounding the concept of health, because in theory, any disease should be treatable if it is in an early stage of remission, but the reality of the situation is much different.
To illustrate the problematic nature of this definition, note that the definition states that health is absence of a disease or other illness. Now, when someone is diagnosed with a particular illness, they may be treated to “relieve the symptoms” of the illness. However, because the symptoms may still be present, the absence of the illness does not necessarily mean the person has recovered from the illness. The same can be said for the definition of health.
The fourth definition of health is resilience, which refers to the ability to handle changes in living conditions and environments. Resilience can take many forms and is influenced by both biological and psychological factors. For example, people who are highly resilient can adapt to changes in their environment without feeling the effects physically, mentally or emotionally. Those with less resilience may require greater input to their situation in order to achieve optimal health. Another example of resilience is the ability to recover from physical injury or illness quickly.
When you begin to think about how the definition of health relates to the medical model of treating disease, you will see that the differences between the medical model and the alternative definition are significant. Health is a subjective concept that often differs from person to person. The alternative definition of health would place more emphasis on a person’s subjective view of their own health. For example, many people might believe that they are physically healthy while another might believe they are beyond the point of being able to be physically healthy.