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Health and Illness

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The central focus of health psychology is on the effect of psychological, social and biological factors on health and illness. This field of study is rather new and it emerged because the contemporary society has turned out to be more conscious on health issues such as the foods that people eat, the way their bodies look and how they generally feel. Health psychologists seek to establish the best ways of preventing diseases, the psychological impacts that are created by individuals when they are diagnosed with illnesses and ways of promoting healthy living. They are also interested in seeking to establish if patients’ attitudes and personalities have negative or positive effects on their health. Health psychology is sometimes referred to as behavioral medicine or medical psychology.

It is noteworthy that health psychology has turned out to be so much involved with matters of physical health and illness such that medical centers have become significant employers of psychology majors these days. Health psychologists seek to establish the coping strategies that are exhibited by patients, their adjustment to illnesses and their view on the worth of life. The major focus in the present day is why individuals practice certain things when they actually know that these things pose great danger to their health. For example, they try to find out why some people smoke yet they fully understand that smoking can cause cancer or even death.

Ogden (2007) states that there are a majority of factors that can influence health and illness. While hereditary and contagious illnesses are widespread, there are several psychological and behavioral factors which can affect the general physical well-being and diverse medical conditions of an individual. As aforementioned, the field of health psychology is aimed at promoting health and preventing and treating diseases and illnesses. Health psychologists also seek to explain how people react, manage and convalesce from diseases and illnesses. Other health psychologists work to develop better healthcare systems and approaches to healthcare policies.

Psychological Factors and their Impacts on Health and Illness

Psychological factors have a very significant and tremendous effect on people’s health and on their recuperating prospects when they fall sick. First and foremost, it is important to understand that the management of pain in healthy people is strongly correlated to the psychological and emotional factors that affect them. Research has proved that people’s perception of pain and their pain management skills depend on several factors such as their childhood memories, their parents’ mind-sets towards pain, their intrinsic patterns of behavior and cultural factors among others.

Furthermore, psychological or emotional factors influence people’s mind-sets towards pain at various times and this depends on their moods and psychological well-being at those particular times. Conversely, diversion of attention from pain tends to reduce that pain. This is associated to another psychological factor in patient care, i.e. the fact that patients do not have any control over their bodies. Researchers have established that the larger the sense of control a patient has on his/her body, the lesser the pain that they feel. Researchers also indicate that patients who receive instructions regarding to the magnitude and level of pain that they are about to go through report little pain compared to those who are not given the same instructions.

Psychological factors can also establish the likelihood of an individual developing a physical illness and the probability of that illness affecting his/her life. For instance, an initial study carried out at Duke University Medical Center in Durham indicates that ability to manage stress can minimize to a very great extent the occurrence of successive heart problems in patients who have been diagnosed with heart infections. Consequently, the treatment or elimination of psychological factors can bring about significant positive effects on disease prevention and treatment. Psychological and emotional factors can also be used to establish if a patient will be able to get better after an operation or if the operation will have very little or no benefit at all to the patient (Ogden, 2007).

Even with all the aforementioned advantages, psychological factors such as stress may cause illnesses if they are not handled with adequate care. For instance, the diagnosis of stress related back pain is a psycho-physiological or a psychosomatic one. A psycho-physiological illness may be defined as any physical illness that may arise due to the effect of emotional or psychological factors. The diagnosis of such an illness i.e. the stress related back pain means that it is the psychological factors that either instigated the back pain or are maintaining it or both. It is worth mentioning that although it might be the psychological factors that may be bringing about the physical symptoms, the symptoms are in themselves physically present and not just imaginary. In deed, they are actually real physical problems e.g. the back pain which is initiated by psychological or emotional factors.

It is also evident that hostility and emotional repression and neuroticism may cause cancer and heart infections. This situation is also true when a patient is recuperating from an illness. During the recuperation, psychological factors which include self esteem, beliefs in personal control, optimism and depression become connected with health, health related behaviors and recovery. This situation is also true in many other conditions. For instance, psychological factors may play a very big role in the identification of cardiac patients. These factors have been established as the better predictors of psychosocial or functional convalescence as opposed to medical indices such as the severity of an illness.

A majority of cardiac patients go through extreme psychological suffering and this impact negatively on their recovery process, thus lowering their chances of survival while on the other hand escalating their risk for future events. Psychological factors greatly impact on the biological endpoints of cardiovascular disease through its direct and indirect influence on pathophysiological processes which are linked with the development and evolution of the disease. As a result, there is need to assess and address them with adequate care in the cardiac psychoanalysis programs.

Social Factors and their Impact on Health and Illness

Sociology of health and illness is a field of study in sociology that seeks to establish the social aspects of health and illness. This field of study is concerned with three major areas. These are: conceptualization of health and illness, the study of their social distribution and measurement, and the elucidation of the existing patterns of health and illnesses. The starting point of any sociological discussion about health and illness starts with the clarification of the key concepts in this field of study with a lot of emphasis being laid upon the cultural unpredictability of the boundaries of health and illness and their comprehensive and evaluative nature. Ill-health is a term that refers to a bodily or mental state which is believed to be objectionable and any step to remedy or eliminate such a condition can be justified. On the other hand, sickness is a social role which may allow the processes of social control or regulation to play a significant role (Quick, 2003).

It is important to note that the task of measuring health and illness patterns is not that easy even with clear definitions of both health and illness. Researchers usually use two major sources in their quest to measure ill-health. These are: official statistics and community surveys. Official statistics usually present the data of individuals who have accessed health services in the past and these are the so called ‘treated cases’. Even though this data is readily available to the researchers, it is usually tainted by the fact that it carries along with it the effect of the illness behaviors because of the people’s devotion to use and access health services, and the perception of their illnesses among many other factors.

Community surveys evade this bottleneck through an independent screening of the entire population of people and their contact with health services. Nevertheless, these surveys generally rely upon numerous self-report scales that measure ill-health such that the relationship that exists between these measures and the clinically established sickness is hard to be recognized. No wonder, mortality statistics are more frequently preferred as an alternative measure of mobility statistics because in the most developed societies, where majorities of the people die as a result of degenerative conditions, the age at which a person dies represents a measure of his /her lifetime health. The depicted limitations of these dissimilar measures necessitate the importance of examining a collection of data before analyzing the social distribution of any type of sickness.

With the above details in mind, it is clear that there exist key differences in the patterns of health and illness between different societies and within any specific society. For instance, there has been a long-term decline in mortality rates in the industrialized societies throughout history and the mean life expectancies of the developed societies is also significantly higher than those of the developing societies. Mortality rates and illnesses are also closely associated with the age and sex of an individual. Generally speaking, young and old people are often more vulnerable to contact diseases and die easily in all societies. In addition, in many societies, women tend to live longer than men, even though it is common for them to experience more ill-health than men.

There are also key differences that exist because of ethnicity and social classes within different societies. Townsend (1982), for instance states in his ‘Inequalities in Health: The Black Report’ that Britain’s mortality rates of individuals aged between fifteen and sixty years were two and a half times higher for people within the fifth social class than those in the first social class. According to him, there was very little indication that these differences would reduce.

The elucidation of these trends in health and illness and the distribution of particular illnesses is quite a complex task. It is common for medical professionals and the general public to direct their attention on what they call ‘health-related behaviors’ such as smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise and diet. The significance of these behaviors is also relatively well backed up. Nevertheless, sociologists normally try to look beyond such personal behaviors and shift their attention to try to understand health and illness with regard to broader features in the society. Apart from focusing on health related behaviors which direct people’s attention to cultural factors that determine the trends of consumption, and the material resources which may hinder or enable particular trends of consumption, they also give a considerable amount of attention to the effects of the prolific process of illness and health. This is not done only through the occurrence of phenomena such as environmental and industrial pollution or catastrophes during work but also through diseases that are related with stress.

It is quite clear that social factors play a very key part in bringing about illness and health even though the existing evidence is frequently open to numerous interpretations. For instance, decline in opportunities for career progression and discrepancies in control over work are closely associated with many undesirable consequences for health. Some researches also indicate that pension rights may be a significant factor in elucidating mortality differences that exist among adults and retired people from diverse social classes.


In conclusion, it is important to note that psychological and social factors can impact significantly on health and illness. Social factors include interpersonal relationships, socialization practices and social organizations among others while psychological factors include stress, perception to pain, esteem, cultural beliefs etc. These factors provide an important tool for examining health and illness.

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