Theoretical Perspectives on Health

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When I first stepped into “My health and wellbeing” class, I was eager to know the various perspectives of the words “health” and “wellbeing”. Even though mixed opinions are elicited whenever the two terms are mentioned, understanding them is the key to improving health outcomes in ones’ life (Forbes et al. 2017, p.72). Both lay and theoretical perspectives of health greatly impact on the awareness of individuals about their daily wellbeing.

Health generally implies the status of the body physically without considerations of factors such as illness and disease. On the other hand, wellbeing refers to an existing balance of factors such as emotions, society, occupation, intellect, and spirit. Some people use the terms interchangeably but the bottom line is that it does not matter what we call it. In the end, what is crucially important is how we think and act. The personal awareness to maintain and improve ones’ health is more valuable than having to worry about the definitions (Morrissey & Callaghan 2011, pp. 18-26). This essay will define and discuss both lay and theoretical perspectives on health. Through this essay, I will additionally give my personal reflections and mention some of the factors that have in one way or another influenced my personal experience of health during my coursework.


Lay or rather folk concepts are models that individuals, cultures or communities use while attempting to understand or explain a given phenomenon. Lay concepts of health attempt to shed light on how health can be maintained and give explanations for disease. In most cases, lay definitions bear some theoretical logic (Bishop & Yardley 2010, p. 284). The concepts do not only emanate from various theories relating to illness such as humoral, biomedical, and Ayurvedic medicine but also from concepts developed locally about wellness without theoretical inclination. Lay health concepts relate to specific ideas about the manner in which the body functions. Under such concepts, notable symptoms are thought to be of particular significance. To put this into perspective, the western world views the body as a complex form of machine which must always exist in perfect harmony. Illness, on the other hand, is perceived as something which causes the machine to break down.

However, the western concept is in contrast with the Ayurvedic concept which is most common in South Asia and India. The Ayurvedic concept describes health as a state of balance existing between the social, physical and spiritual environment. According to this concept, illness occurs as a result of disturbance to any of the three mentioned environments (Nikolaidis 2013, p. 533). Chest pain is perceived differently by the two cultures. The western world regards chest pain with concern. In Ayurvedic medicine, chest pain raises a lot of concern but merely as a sign of emotional breakdown and not as a blow to the normal functioning of the body.

Susman (2016) defines health as a state of total social, physical and intellectual wellness. The theoretical concept of health has been evolving progressively. Old concepts of health which put disease as the centre of focus have expanded into intricate, multifaceted models laying emphasis on the holistic approach towards the issue of health. This definition differs from the lay concept which views superficially as health the presence or absence of disease. According to this perspective, health is a crucial resource required in the day to day life and not just the reason for living. 

Huber et al. (2011, p. 63) refer to health as the ability for people to adjust to their surroundings. This definition acknowledges the fact that health as a phenomenon is subjective and interpretation of wellness will actually vary from one individual to the next bearing in mind their different needs. Even so, many scholars consider this view to be limited. Another limitation of this definition is that it describes health as an individual and not a collective responsibility. This limits the scope to promote health as a global issue and a human right for that matter.

Having examined the lay and theoretical definitions of health, it is important to note that there exist similarities and marked differences between the two concepts. For instance, both concepts agree that health is state of balance between factors which relates to the social and physical environments. In addition, the two concepts mention that a disturbance to any of the factors responsible for health will lead to a state of unwellness. The lay definition of health is limited in that it is not all-encompassing (Wills 2011, p. 22). Some theoretical definitions of health are also highly individualistic and regard health as an individual responsibility when in fact it is a collective responsibility calling for an interplay of many factors.

One difference between the lay definition and theoretical definition is that the former describes health as either the presence or absence of illness while the latter assumes a broader perspective and views health as the complete intellectual, social and physical wellness of an individual without the consideration of illness. 

As a result of the lay and theoretical definitions of health, my perspective on this phenomenon is that it impacts greatly on how I view health greatly impacts on my ability to achieve and maintain a perfect state of well-being. More often than not, different cultural interpretation of symptoms leads to a late diagnosis of symptoms which sometimes could be life-threatening. For instance, the presence of a lump in the breast which is attributed to mere injury in my culture can lead to delayed diagnosis of breast cancer. Similarly, abdominal pain symptom which I never used to interpret as serious could be a sign of appendicitis. Having said that, it matters less whether one examines health through the lay or theoretical mirror. What is of importance, in the end, is not how I define health but rather how I think and act. The personal awareness to improve and maintain is more valuable than worrying about the actual definitions.


Looking back, the coursework and what I have learned outside of my coursework but that which relates to my health and wellbeing has shaped my understanding of health as a phenomenon in life. My previous understanding of health was not only shallow but also individualistic. I used to imagine that being healthy meant that I was not sick and vice versa. Over the two terms, I have been able to shift my thinking about the health concept. It is impossible for anyone to maintain a healthy lifestyle without first having to know the small details about the factors which are responsible for ones’ wellbeing.

Several factors have impacted on my personal experience of health over the two terms. Some of these aspects are social support, parenting, mental wellness, and physical wellness. These factors emphasize the fact that there exists an intricate connection between the spirit, body and mind. This holistic approach to the concept of health has allowed me to appreciate that I am responsible for wellbeing. I have become more aware of the fact that while learning to provide care to other people, I should not lose sight of my overall purpose in life which is to care for myself. 

In order to maintain my wellbeing, there is a constant need to alter my behaviour where necessary to ensure that I do not put my health in danger. Behaviour has a great bearing on the wellbeing of an individual. To improve the outcomes of health, it is vital for me to maintain an acceptable body mass index (B.M.I). Sustaining an acceptable B.M.I. is not something that comes by chance. It requires deliberate efforts. The effort required may call for me to increase the intake of fruits and vegetables while at the same time cutting down junks and meat. This is as hard as it is uncomfortable for me but there cannot be any gain without pain.

  Research has shown that there exists an inextricable link between mental and physical health. The association of the two is thought to be either social, physiological or behavioural. This realization has enabled me to modulate stress. Stress affects my mental wellbeing and when my mental wellbeing is affected, my physical health is affected too. My approach towards life is one that allows me to act only on things and decisions that I have control over. This way, I am able to avoid stressful situations.


This section will discuss social support and parenting. I have identified these two factors for discussion in greater detail because of the role they have played in my personal experience of health.  Social support is the comfort, either physical and emotional, we receive from the people that care about us such as family, friends and co-workers. It is a key component of strong relationships and solid psychological health. In essence, social support entails having a social network that we can turn to during moments of trial and pain. Social support helps people on their feet again during times of crisis and builds their strength to be able to carry on with life (Chou & Chou 2018). The presence and absence of social support impacts on one’s ability to deal with stressful situations. Knowing that you are of great value to others is a vital psychological factor because it enables a person not to dwell so much on the negative aspects of life and instead focus on the positives that the surrounding is providing.

Social support exists in various forms. One form of social support is emotional support. This form of support is the most common form of social support and it is what first comes to mind whenever the term social support is mentioned. People who show this kind of support will openly act in ways that depict love and care. There have been times in my life when I have been in need of emotional support and those that care about me have never even for once let me down. For example, five years ago I lost my paternal grandmother. Her death left me devastated as she was one of the people I valued so much in my life. We had a connection which does not exist even between me and my parents. I looked up to her for so many things. I could not imagine a way to cope with the loss of the person who was a mentor to me.  Thanks to family and friends, who were there to comfort me.  I recall one friend who kept calling, sometimes visiting over a period of one month after grandmother had passed on, always encouraging me. She always emphasized that everything in life happens for a reason and time is the best healer. Thanks to her and others I finally was able to cope with the loss.

From my personal experience with the loss of a loved one and how family and friends helped me to overcome the pain, it is important to appreciate the role social support play in our daily lives. People dealing with life-threatening conditions such as cancer and HIV/AIDS need support to deal with their anguish and improve their health outcomes ( 2018). The presence of a strong social support system impacts positively on the state of mind of patients. This, in turn, helps them to come to terms with their afflictions and embark on the path to recovery.

Social support can also be offered in terms of practical help (Mustafa, Short & Fan 2015, p, 348). This kind of support is important because it helps people to accomplish the tasks at hand in time. The people who care about us can offer help by giving you money whenever you want to meet your most immediate needs and have no means. They can also offer their help when we are moving houses or when we need someone to help with childcare. When I was joining college, I was moving into a new city where I knew no one and also did not know my way around. My classmates who were more familiar with the surroundings than I was helped to find an appropriate house and settle. Without their help, I would have taken more time to settle and this might have affected my studies negatively.

Sharing varied points of view with colleagues and family members is also another form of social support. Sharing points of view provide more approaches on how to deal with a particular situation. This form of social support also enables us to better understand our circumstances and the best way to address them (Li, Dean & Ensel 2014). For instance, there are times I do not understand some concepts in class. After class, I usually approach my friends to help me understand the concepts. With their help, I find my confidence to study back. This form of help has been instrumental throughout my academic journey.

Sharing information as a form of social support is also equally important and may help people to avoid the harmful effects associated with stress (Hobfoll 2014, p. 27). After completing high school, I needed to find myself a job that would help me stay busy and avoid the distractions that come with having to stay idle among peers. I did not know where to start and so decided to ask a few friends to recommend me whenever they came across a suitable opportunity. This helped as a week later, I received a call from one of my friend telling me that there was an open opportunity in their company and that if I was still interested, I could apply. Lucky for me, I applied and was favourably considered for the position. Sharing information helped me to avoid the frustration of having to move from one company to another looking for a suitable opening.

My experience has enabled me to appreciate the impact of social support on my wellbeing. I have learnt that you cannot always have enough social support. Whereas I have enough emotional support, I need to grow my support network into other areas so that I can find people who share my interests. I love running and so finding like-minded individuals will help me a great deal. For this reason, I want to create opportunities to meet new people.

The existing relationship between parenting and mental health has been evaluated by many scholars. Rodrigo, Byrne and Rodríguez (2014, p. 11) examine that intensive parenting leads to negative health outcomes related to mental well-being such as stress and depression. Parents who engage in intensive parenting believe that it is their duty to sacrifice their needs in order to first meet those of the children. By so doing, these parents seek their happiness through the children.

One of the ways in which parenting affects wellbeing is through its influence on self-esteem among children. Positive self-esteem contributes to better health by acting as a protective buffer against the effects of negative influences in life (Meier et al. 2018, p. 998). It promotes positive social behaviour which can be depicted through various aspects of life such as satisfaction, and achievement (Carlock 2013). In contrast, negative self-esteem plays a role in the emergence of social problems and mental disarrays such as depression, violence, and other high-risk behaviours.

During the early years of development, parents have a huge influence on children. High self-esteem is the product of quality relationships that exist between a child and significant adults in their lives such as parents (Sim 2012, p. 51). Self-esteem also grows from the type of feedback a child gets from other parents. A child is then able to evaluate their own experiences which are typically subjective. Childhood problems related to mental health can have a long-lasting effect on the life of a child (Taylor et al. 2012, p. 32). Use of excessive discipline and minimal use of sensitive parenting have all been shown to lead to low self-esteem among children.

Parental relationships have been shown to increase self-esteem by fostering emotional connections and a sense of interdependence (Rodríguez et al. 2010, p. 389). For example, it has been shown that daughters who have a healthy relationship with their mothers during childhood go on to become resilient and are self-believing. My relationship with my parents has played a huge role in shaping the person I am today. I have always enjoyed a good relationship with both my parents. They have always encouraged open communication, letting me know that I can always share my thoughts and feelings.

There were times in my childhood when I was totally out of control. During such times, my parents always helped me to find calmness and stability. They never raised a voice against me even when it was tempting for them to use an accusing tone to condemn my behaviour. Before warning me, they always started with what was basic to them. They wanted to know whether there was an explanation for whatever was going on in my life. Through their actions alone, I was slowly learning that my parents wanted to build a home that was safe and peaceful but also stress-free. They also assigned me chores and went ahead to give timelines that I found reasonable. Whenever I did something that impressed them, they were always quick to praise me and affirm their love for me. This parenting approach has inculcated in me the spirit of positive thinking and self-confidence.  


To this end, this essay has outlined both the lay and theoretical definitions of health. Lay definition of health is viewed as the concept used by people who lack an understanding of the different facets of health in an attempt to explain the occurrence of disease. The theoretical concept, on the other hand, describes health as a state of total social, physical and intellectual wellness without regard to illness. I was able to reflect on how what I have learned has been influenced since the beginning of the year.  A range of factors responsible for my personal experience of health over the two terms was mentioned and discussed in greater detail.


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October 05, 2023




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