Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is ‘a state of full mental and physical well being and not just the absence of sickness and infirmity.’ Over time a wide variety of definitions have also been used to describe the concept. But what exactly does it mean? Below are some of the most common definitions used today:
The first definition, the most commonly used, defines well-being as the ability to enjoy life to the fullest. According to this model, health is a human right. The right to enjoy life fully means that we should be able to live in a society in which we have complete freedom from all negative aspects. This includes physical, emotional, mental, and social aspects. The focus is on achieving this well-being by eliminating or controlling as much stress as possible.
The second definition, the second most widely used, emphasizes control as the means of achieving mental wellbeing. It claims that illness is a way of limiting personal freedom and therefore needs to be controlled. The aim is then to promote healthy relationships and healthy competition among people to create the conditions necessary for good psychological well-being. As a result, it supports public health through education and promotes mental well being through a variety of interventions.
The third definition, from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), characterizes mental health as “the state of well-being”. It is a composite state involving physiological, psychological, and social elements. Mental health is said to have its roots in the family, community, and national communities. It is influenced by the social context in which we find ourselves. This can be seen in the concept of environmental management, the focus on prevention and early detection, and the promotion of healthy communities.
Public debate on mental health has been much debated over the years. It has been an area of much controversy, as there are many opposing views on what constitutes good and bad health. This debate is generally between those who support a strong medical model which includes a comprehensive approach encompassing prevention, early detection and treatment of any existing condition, and those who oppose a reductionist, simplistic approach which tends to focus on symptoms and the control of disease rather than underlying causes. There are also those who believe that mental health is an internal condition, beyond the control of anyone other than the person affected. This group is represented by the opposition to any change in the status quo.
The debate over the definition of public health highlights the need for developing a comprehensive public health action plan to improve the health of the population as a whole. The field of public health research has made great strides forward in the past 20 years, with major breakthroughs in diagnosing and treating a wide range of diseases and conditions. However, much remains to be done to ensure that the impact of prevention, diagnosis and treatments are maximized to bring about improvement in all aspects of health. Managing disease and ensuring that the impact of disease is minimized should form a major part of any future plan for public health. It is also important to ensure that future generations are equipped to deal with the challenges of a much healthier life.