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Health is a very critical aspect as it affects almost every individual irrespective of age, gender, social status or any other factor. Health can be termed as the condition of an individual’s mind, body as well as spirit. Being healthy means that a person does not suffer in any of the above areas or else he or she is not ill or in pain.
It can also be defined as the state of general physical, mental as well as social well being. Sociology on the other hand entails the study of individuals or the society especially in regard to the aspect of welfare.
It is a very broad discipline encompassing areas like religion, social stratification, law, social mobility, military, and health among others1. This piece of work gives an in depth investigation of the relationship between health and sociology or rather why health is considered to be a sociological issue.
Health and sociology
Sociology is a very broad concept and incorporates a lot of aspects including those associated with natural sciences as well as social sciences. Sociology being the study of the society and its well being, it deals with a variety of social issues that in one way or the other interferes with the well being of an individual be it in physically or even mentally.
When a person is healthy, he or she is considered to be physically, mentally and mentally well and the absence of either of this aspect makes him or her unhealthy. Sociologists engage in activities of social context that in one way or the other affect the well being of human beings. Health is one such aspect and much has been done in this area2.
Health and illness are concepts that have for a long period of time been considered to be purely medical related issues but it has found their application in other fields like sociology.
This has in a way made it easy to deal with the aspect of health and illness through the application of various principles and strategies that are not included in the medical field. Sociology is a field that has contributed a lot in the understanding of health related issues through the perception and handling of health as a social issue.3
There are various social factors that have been associated with contributing to health patterns in terms how health problems come up and how they can be dealt with in a social manner for instance through provision of psychological advice in the form of counseling.
Health and illness falls under various fields for instance medicine and sociology. It is an aspect that has been faced with a lot of controversy on where it should be classified or the fields which should deal with the ordeal which affects every individual in the world.
Sociology of heath and illness is a very essential discipline although for a very long time, different individuals and agencies have doubted where the ‘social’ aspect comes in when it comes to health and health care.
With the advent of various research studies, the concept of how health is a sociological issues has not only been understood but also the sociology of health and illness has been appreciated very much due to the contribution it has made in regard to dealing with the problem.4
Health is a social behavior. It is influenced to a great extent by the societal aspects that affect the general human behavior for instance stress and lack of satisfaction or rather an inadequacy in a certain aspect that is necessary for an individual to be fit and healthy.
It is also affected by the specific behavior patterns that are endangered by various institutions more especially healthcare facilities. Sick people who suffer form various health problems tend to exhibit certain behavior considered to have some social attributes.
Despite the fact that healthcare is highly technical in nature with strict rules of conduct, it is also true that the social factors play a critical role in health behaviors that are seen in sick people. According to Thomas (2003), the rules and guidelines used in healthcare institutions are derived from social circumstances, are set by social beings and are also stipulated for use upon human beings5.
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Health is considered to be a social behavior and sickness as a social condition that is linked to various social factors. Social considerations play a great role in determining the health of a person or what sickness is considered to be.
Social meaning is also attributed to various health conditions for instance menopause and pregnancy among others. Some of the health issues could be perceived to be medical and medical intervention could be sought while others are just taken as social issues and left to take place without any need for any medical intervention.
Most of health conditions are associated with social stigma that could take a considerable amount of time to heal. This can be clearly seen in most of the sexually transmitted diseases for instance HIV and AIDs. The diseases have much more social concerns as compared to the medical concerns due to the image they create upon the affected persons and those around them6.
The social significance that is associated with health and illness can be clearly seen in the effects it has on social relationships that exist among people. This can be seen from simple health issues like some form of disabilities to major ones like HIV and AIDS which causes disruptions in social ties either voluntarily or involuntarily.
The affected individuals usually fail to perform their social responsibilities for instance in their day to day work or career, school related duties like learning as well as church and other community based activities.
This makes it to be more of a social issue as opposed to medical issue. The change of personal perception of the affected individual as well as that of the other people in his or her social group changes automatically7.
Health and illness are considered to be a social issue and various strategies have been put in place in an effort to curb problems related to health. Poverty reduction is an example.
This is because poverty is a major contributor of illness or unhealthy conditions among individuals. Poor people become vulnerable to various health conditions due to the inability to have an appropriate nutrition and also to cater for their health problems in terms of visiting health centers.
Poverty leads to a lot of suffering and diseases. It may also cause premature deaths. Health of individuals is affected by various social factors and the existence of inequalities an hence the concern for sociologists in this field. Health care and the delivery systems involved can be viewed as a social system. This is because they deal with the issues that affect people’s health more especially those that are social related8.
Diseases or illness affects the particular individual suffering from the certain sickness, the family members and the society at large. Sickness affects the proper functioning of an individual and therefore affects the capability of achieving much on a personal as well as a societal level.
Illness is in most parts of the world, particularly in the United States of America, viewed as an aspect associated with some form of incapacitation. The sick are considered to be a burden to the society since they do not contribute any positive move but rather necessitate use of the economy’s resources in an effort to improve their status which could never be achieved.
Various diseases affect different parts of the body and affect different individuals differently according to the health status in regard to the resistance which in turn is affected by aspects like age and environmental factors.
Apart from affecting the physical and psychological well being of an individual, illness also affects the social well being of the affected person and the people involved for instance the family members.
This makes it a sociological issue and it has contributed to a great concern of sociologists as opposed to leaving the aspects to the medical practitioners like the doctors and nurses who may deal with the physical and mental attributes of health but fail to consider the social element hence leaving the problem half solved9.
Most diseases have their roots to social factors and lifestyle behaviors whereby healthy lifestyles leads to healthy life while unhealthy lifestyles are a leading contributor to diseases and illness.
Aspects surrounding health and health care for instance the activities of the doctors, the medical staff and the patients are also governed by social considerations. Social support is also an aspect of essence when it comes to health an illness. Social cultural factors influence health and illness.
Persons with inadequate social support in their general lives tend to face health problems more often, suffer adverse effects of the diseases and even endure the situations for longer periods of time as compared to those individuals who have sufficient social support10.
It is evident that health and illness is a social behavior with most of the factors surrounding it and general health care being more of a social nature as they are determined by some social considerations. Sociology has advanced greatly to encompass almost all aspect related to life and health has found an appropriate application in this discipline, sociology, due to the sociological attributes associated with it.
From this research, It is evident the health is a sociological issue. To understand and deal with the issue of health effectively, it is important to take it in various dimensions for instance as a biological, mental as well as a social aspect. This is because it affects the well being of an individual.
There are various social factors that produce patterns related to health and the application of sociological principles have proved to be very useful in the in making positive moves in regard to solving health problems.
The recognition of health as a sociological aspect has also made a lot of improvements in the well being of individuals and hence it has now been taken seriously. For this reasons, the sociological essence of health can never be underemphasized.
Andersen, L.M. & HF Taylor, Sociology: The Essentials, 6th Ed, Belmont, CA, Cengage Learning, 2010.
Barry, A & Y Chris, Understanding the Sociology of Health: An Introduction, 2nd Ed, SAGE, London, 2008.
Ferrante, J, Sociology: A Global Perspective, 7ed, Belmont, CA, Cengage Learning, 2010.
Giddens, A., Sociology: Introductory Readings, 3rd ed., Malden, MA, Polity, 2010
Morrall, P, Sociology and health: an introduction, 2nd Ed, New York, Taylor & Francis, 2009.
Plummer, K, Sociology: The Basics, New York, Taylor & Francis, 2010.
Taylor, S & D Field, Sociology of Health and Health Care, 4th Ed, London, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.
Thomas, K.R., Society and health: sociology for health professionals, Springer, New York, 2003.
Turnock, JK, Public health: what it is and how it works, 4ed, London, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2009.
Weil, A., Natural Health, Natural Medicine: The Complete Guide to Wellness and Self-Care for Optimum Health, New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004.
1 J, Ferrante, Sociology: A Global Perspective, 7ed, Belmont, CA, Cengage Learning, 2010. P22
2 L.M, Andersen& HF Taylor, Sociology: The Essentials, 6th Ed, Belmont, CA, Cengage Learning, 2010.p 102
3 K, Plummer, Sociology: The Basics, New York, Taylor & Francis, 2010. P 17
4A, Barry & Y Chris, Understanding the Sociology of Health: An Introduction, 2nd Ed, SAGE, London, 2008. P 6
5 K.R., Thomas, Society and health: sociology for health professionals, Springer, New York, 2003. P 12
6 S,Taylor & D Field, Sociology of Health and Health Care, 4th Ed, London, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.p 59
7 A, Giddens, Sociology: Introductory Readings, 3rd ed., Malden, MA, Polity, 2010 p 121
8 P Morrall, Sociology and health: an introduction, 2nd Ed, New York, Taylor & Francis, 2009.
9 A, Weil, Natural Health, Natural Medicine: The Complete Guide to Wellness and Self-Care for Optimum Health, New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004. P 245
10 JK, Turnock, Public health: what it is and how it works, 4ed, London, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2009.