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Health and illness: Social and biological constructs

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Health And Social Care
Wordcount: 1178 words Published: 2nd May 2017

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Define both health and illness as social and biological constructs. Examine the ways in which both constructs differ in your answer make reference to health patterns in two contrasting cultures

The everyday absence of disease or illness is known as our health (Bilton et al 2002). Health is simply a biological description of our bodies, and if something is not right, then we deem ourselves ill (Bilton et al 2002). There is understood to be two views on health and illness, one being the biological and the other sociological. Biological views of our health looks at our bodies through the biomedical model of health, this is used by health professionals in the diagnoses and treatment of a disease (Bilton et al 2002). If a person is diagnosed with an illness, it can be treated by forms or medicines, therapies, such as physiotherapy, or by surgery (Bilton et al 2002). The biomedical model looks at our body in different ways and it is understood that the mind and the body can be treated differently; this is referred to as mind/body dualism. Plus the body is liked to a machine, meaning it can be repaired, the doctor being the engineer that repairs it (Nettleton 2006). Because of the ability to diagnose illnesses and recommend treatment, the health profession hold a high power status, along with the dominance of the health industry (Bilton et al 2002). Society has been entrenched with this power held by a health professional, we have become dependent on going to seek medical advice because of their experience on the understanding of being ill and letting them decide whether treatment is needed (Bilton et al 2002). Doctors comprehend that health and illness is not a shared by their patients, so education and expensive advertisements attempt to promote awareness and symptoms. The Biomedical model is criticised by socialist McKeown (1976) were he argued that improved hygiene, sanitation and nutrition have been important social improvements of health (McKeown 1976 in Parry 2010). Furthermore Illich (1975) argues that modern medicine is iatrogenic, meaning it creates rather than cures disease (Illich 1975 in Parry 2010). Marxist (1972) theories also argue that the prominence of the medical model removes the attention away from social causes of disease (Marxist 1972 in Parry 2010, Adams et al 2002).

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In contrast to the biomedical model we also have the sociological model of health, it is understood that this considers the social origins and influences on disease (Bilton et al 2002). The social model of health considers the environment, social and behavioural factors into consideration. The social model has a long history, from influences such as urbanisation and industrialisation (Wainwright 2007). Likewise material deprivation plays a fundamental role in the cause of disease (Wainwright 2007). This is because the poor may be refused or not have the knowledge to access to goods and services for health. Providing clean water, good housing and an adequate food supply can contribute to a person being healthier (Wainwright 2007). It is claimed that if a person is working in a job that is strenuous then they are more likely to catch disease and become ill (Wainwright 2007). It is also understood that working class people have a higher mortality rate than those in the other classes (Wainwright 2007, Parry 2010). This could be due to the working class living in industrialised areas or highly populated areas as the spread of disease is more common (Bilton et al 2002). Likewise work related accidents are more prone to people working in industrialised areas (Bilton et al 2002, Wainwright 2007). Health education can play a role in improving the health of people, if people can understand how leading unhealthy lifestyles can contribute to illness and disease then maybe this will turn them away from the unhealthy lifestyle (Bilton et al 2002, Parry 2010). Some forms of an unhealthy lifestyle could be smoking, eating fatty foods or lacking physical activity (Sanna 2006). The social model of health also suggests that disability is driven upon an impaired person as a result of the way society is organised (Oliver and Sapey 1999). Suggesting a person with an impairment has become unable to remain in the community due to the social and physical environment stopping them continuing to lead an independent life (Oliver and Sapey 1999).

In comparison the culture in China have a different view on the health of the body. This is understood to be the body is in good health when it is in total harmony, this referring to the Yin and Yang (Wong 2008), factors such as the environment influence this imbalance (Wong 2008). To restore the balance, traditional remedial practises are used; an example of this is herbal tea (Wong 2008, Holtz 2008). The Chinese government have a laissez-flair policy for health care in rural areas, they also utilise a pay as you go type scheme for when a person visits a hospital or clinic (Holtz 2008, Wong 2008). People in urban areas can also have government health insurance which aims to provide more access to health care and better technologies (Holtz 2008). Currently the Chinese government have invested heavily on improving public health by modifying and enlarging disease prevention units, supply control centres and disaster relief in some of the country’s major cities (Holtz 2008). Mental health is one of China’s major concerns; this is due to the rapid social and economic changes, financial losses, gambling, extramarital affairs, family violence, divorce and raises in substance abuse (Holtz 2008). Furthermore unemployment and the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor are having an effect on the Chinese population’s mental health (Holtz 2008).

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Mexico has a range of packages available for its residents to enable them to access health care (Holtz 2008); this includes the social security institution which provides coverage for all medical care and prescriptions (Holtz 2008). Also the social security system, which covers workers, is made up of several agencies and is funded by employers, employees and the government (Holtz 2008). Relationship failures, imbalances with food, water, air and temperature add to the causes of illness in Mexico (Holtz 2008). Clean water has been a challenge for Mexico as this is needed to prevent illness and maintaining health (Holtz 2008). It is understood by some that illness is caused as a failure to relate to god (Holtz 2008) and due to the high costs in health care in Mexico; there are spiritual and physical healers that use traditional technics (Holtz 2008). The Curanderos, are believed to be chosen by god to heal people (Holtz 2008). Yerberos specialize in using herbs and spices for treatment (Holtz 2008). Sobadors use massage therapy to try and correct muscle imbalance (Holtz 2008). Parteras are midwife like, women only, who have been trained as a birth attendant by other family members or friends this is cheaper to pay for than a physician (Holtz 2008).


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