The Oxford dictionaries (2010) defined health as: ‘1) the state of being free from illness or injury; 2) a person’s mental or physical conditions’. The same dictionary defined wellbeing as: ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy‘. Both health and wellbeing combined together can be defined as the sum of physical, mental, social and emotional part of a person.
These are the ‘resources’ for health according to WHO’s 1986 Ottawa Charter, (Earle, 2007). It’s also inline with the health definition of the World Health Organisation (WHO 1946, Earle, 2007): ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.
According to Earle (2007), health is a multifaceted concept and there are a range of definitions held by various people according to their socioeconomic status, cultural differences such as class, age, ethnicity and gender. For example, in Activity 18 (K311, Learning Guide 1, Activity 18, Audio: ‘Influences on health’), the lay and professional people held various health concepts which map onto the eighteen key concepts of health identified by Hughner & Kleine (Earl, 2007).
While the professional people described health and wellbeing in acquainted approach, the lay people tend to describe health according to their experiences, commonsense, believes and medical science, (Blaxter, 2004) For example, Health Development Officer Woods’s defined health as taking responsibility for the health of her physical body and mental wellbeing, while unemployed Thompson said ‘although I eat fatty unhealthy food, this gives me no harm except the cholesterol I have. But I feel fit and healthy’.
Although they are different in their understandings and descriptions of health, they are not polar opposite to each other but are rather separate perceptions as founded Herzlich, (1973) in Earle, (2007). Thompson’s view is in agreement with the Scottish Executive (Earl, 2007) definition of wellbeing: ‘A person’s sense of positive feeling about their life situation and their personal health, both physical and mental…’ Therefore, one can have some sort of illness and still have a sense of wellbeing.
Health and wellbeing can be defined using models that are ideas used whenever there is a need to improve health and wellbeing, (Edlin and Golanty, 2010). For example, the biomedical model, the most influential and dominant model, defines health as the absence of disease (Earle, 2007). It focuses on curing a disease or restoring the malfunction of body part. But it rarely considers psychological and social factors that can affect health, therefore it is limited.
To address this limitation, the social model puts emphases on the interactions with the physical and social environment, therefore, health is defined as socially constructed and caused, (Earle, 2007). It encourages people to change their healthy damaging habits and avoid diseases. The social model is criticised to focus on communities and target their behaviours, believes, custom and traditions which can confuse the boundaries between public and private, individual and social life in the name of healthiness, (O’Brien, 1995) in Earle, (2007).
It increases the medicalisation of everyday life such as pregnancy, sadness and worry which are normal phenomenon, (Earle, 2007). However, why not focus on factors that assist health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease? After all, we are all somewhere between ‘health-ease – dis-ease continuum’, according to Antonovsky’s Salutogenic Paradigm, (Sidell, 2010).