What is health? How do you define it?
* Health is a state of being free from any disease.
* Health is a state of perfect harmony between all the organs and systems of the body.
Or is there more to health? Let us explore.
The first definition of health has a basic fault in it – it tries to define a primary state through a secondary state. Health is a primary state. It cannot be fully defined through a secondary phenomenon, disease. And then there is a larger question. Does being free from any disease which can be given a name, makes one healthy? I think, no. I know so many people who have no known disease and yet they are not healthy. I know a woman who likes to show off her tons of jewelry to those who can’t have it; a woman who snobs at everyone. She has no known disease. But would you call her healthy? I know a man, who is a couch potato. He goes to his job and does nothing else. He does not help his wife with family responsibilities. He behaves with her as if she is his servant. He has no known disease. But would you call him healthy? I know a man who brags about his achievements till everybody around drops dead. He has no known disease. But would you call him healthy?
‘Health’ is an elusive word. Most people who consider themselves healthy are not. And many people who are suffering from some known disease, may be relatively healthy. Health is a concept which does not merely relate to the absence of disease, of healthy working of organs, or having good thoughts. Health is a holistic concept. It relates to a person as a whole. Not just the person you see, but also the person you ‘feel’. Health is a tri-une of three parts:
– Emotional Health
– Mental Health
– Physical Health
Let us explore each one of these.
This is probably the easiest to define and yet it is sometimes the most difficult to understand. Physical health can be defined as a state in which all the body parts are anatomically intact and are performing their physiological functions perfectly and harmoniously. It is a very simplistic definition, but it basically covers everything like:
- All the body parts should be there
- All of them are in their natural place and position
- None of them has any pathology
- All of them are doing their physiological functions properly
- And they work with each other harmoniously
This may seem a bit idealistic to some, but here we are talking about the ideals. But even this definition does not cover it all. Let me give an example. There are lots of people around us who catch a cold with every change of season or with every sudden change of temperature. Now in common parlance, we say that these people have low immunity. But the fact is that most of these people have normal blood counts and normal immunological tests. So when these people are not down with cold they are in perfect health as per the above definition. And yet they are not perfectly healthy. Their system breaks down with every stressful condition. So we can add another aspect to the above definition of physical health:
- The anatomical and functional integrity of the body parts and systems should be maintained under moderate stress.
Now a bit more tricky part. Read the following statement carefully.
‘Not falling ill at all is also not a sign of good health‘
This statement needs to be understood carefully. It is a normal phenomenon to occasionally get a cold, a fever, or a stomach bug. There is nothing wrong in getting an occasional acute ailment. It is quite natural and also good for our immune system. Occasional sickness keeps our immune system in a ready state.
But you might have seen many people around you, who never seem to get an acute illness. People who have never had a cold or never had a fever in ten years. Not all of these people are healthy. In fact many of these people are more ill than their counterparts who keep getting their occasional acutes. I say this because these people are not super humans and most of them are not in ‘ideal’ health either. The fact is that these people do get affected by environmental factors and other stresses. But the result of these forces is not seen on physical plane. Such people are more affected on the mental and emotional plane. They become ‘dis-eased’ but their disease is not easily apparent on the physical level. If you want to cross-check my statement, then go to a mental asylum and enquire about the rate of prevalence of acute ailments. You will find it extremely low.
Now let us move on to the mental health.
When we talk about mind, we basically refer to our capability to perceive, comprehend, think, judge, and remember – the intellectual and reasoning faculties. Now pause for a moment and think. Think about all the people you know, who have rather strange perceptions of people around them, or about certain cultural and political ideologies. People whose perceptions are delusional. Think about the people around you who need to be told everything twice before they understand you. Think about the people who either do not think at all (thoughtless ones) or who think too much. People who take wrong decisions even when facts are against their decision. And then think about the children at school who do not seem to remember anything. And the housewife who looks for her specs while wearing them on her nose.
I do not intend to say that all such people are mentally ill. But many of them are. Not everyone can have the same level of mental faculties, but these signs do show that these people are not in their optimum mental health.
I will not talk here about the mental sickness that takes some of us to asylums. My focus here is on the concept of mental health and not on mental sickness. Although they are totally related but there is a difference of degrees.
There is no absolute definition for mental health as there is a great variation in the level of mental faculties among people. But still we can set some reasonable standards. Some of the markers of mental health can be:
- having a mental aptitude near or above social average.
- having the ability to perceive things as they are, and not as one thinks they are.
- having the ability to understand the social structure and ability to comprehend vocal and other forms of communication within that social structure
- having a reasonable ability to make judgments regarding good and bad or right and wrong.
- having the ability to remember and reproduce information collected through various senses or through learning to a reasonable degree.
These are just some of the basics and even these cannot be given a measuring scale. The only measuring scale we have is that of social average. But even that has its limitations. The concept of mental health is so vast that whole books can be written about it- without reaching to any conclusions!
The modern medical science does not consider a person mentally ill, if he or she can not be given a disease label to wear. But look around you and you will see so many ‘mentals’ moving around. Most of us are unable to recognize when our mental health starts to fail. The reason for this is that when our mind is affected, our ability to reason and judge ourselves is also affected. And so people often do not realize that they are not in optimum mental health, until the things start taking bad shape.
As we appreciate changes in the normal functioning of body parts as probable signs of disease, similarly, we should appreciate the subtle signs which reflect a change in our mental being. Most mental deviations cannot be labeled as ‘disease’. They are at best ‘deviations’ that need correction through social and medical therapies.
Our brain is the part which regulates both our mental and emotional faculties. So these two are highly related. In fact, most of the people who suffer from some psychological disease are both mentally and emotionally ill. But in this part, I will specifically focus on the emotional health.
Technically speaking, our emotions are neuro-hormonal reactions occurring in response to some physical or mental stimulus, which in turn, affect our response to the same stimulus on the physical and mental plane. This may sound like a very unromantic explanation, but it is a fact. Emotions do not come from our heart, they are generated in our brain. All the emotions we feel – love, joy, hate, anger, sorrow etc. are nothing but some primitive algorithms that are processed to generate response on the physical and mental level.