Disease Versus Health: Definitions

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Too many diseases are the opposite of health. However, this definition does not work because we can then ask the question: what is the definition of health? Both of the categories can be completely different to many people depending on social and cultural influences. Another question that often comes up when we are talking about disease and health is what is the difference between disease and disability? Why do we often put them together? Is this the right thing to do? To start, we must first define illness which in simple terms can be defined as “Illness is a social designation, by no means given in the nature of medical fact” (p. 180).

There are physiological bodily conditions or naturally occurring events. The disease side of the disease and illness is always being changed and redefined by social constructionist analysis. What this means is that what is considered a biological illness is typically determined by society and culture. The key findings of social constructionism are organized under three themes The cultural meaning of illness. What gets labeled as a biological disease is typically socially negotiated. This is what makes coming up with a definition for disease difficult because it can vary from different cultures and beliefs and even from person to person.

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Studies show that medical anthropology and sociology show that what determines if you are ill can vary from class, gender, ethnic group, and other factors. An example is how close you are to family members so that they can provide support. (Scully, 2004)

The view of what a disease is has changed over time. This is partially caused by changes in diagnostic capabilities. Although the main reason is due to social and economic reasons. What is seen as a disease or illness in one culture might not be seen as a disease in another culture.

Why is it important to know the difference between disease and disability? The answer to this is that in today’s world we need to know the difference so that we know how to treat the condition. With today’s technology medicine is so powerful that we need to be careful of how much treatment or help we should provide before it brings up more ethical situations. We must also be able to determine what a disease is and then determine if it is worth devoting time and money to provide research for a cure to the disease. (Scully, 2004)

How do we determine what are real diseases and what are just human behaviors and characteristics that just happen to find disturbing? First, we must define what disease is. Many would say the disease is the opposite of health however saying this does.

An example of this problem is ADHD, many people would argue that ADHD is really just poorly behaved kids we cannot control, rather than them being considered having a disease.

We now must define disability. Disability can be worse to define than a disease because there are so many different kinds of people and variations of them that it can be hard to determine what should be considered a known disability and what is just an advantage or disadvantage that one person has compared to another, and what is considered to be just a biomedical norm. Many illnesses have cultural meanings. There are both stigmatized illness and contested illness. An illness that is stigmatized typically makes illness more difficult to treat. The most obvious example of this is HIV/AIDS. People may not seek help because of the fear of being mistreated by healthcare professionals, and being associated differently than the rest of the public. (Conrad & Barker, 2010)

Contested illnesses symptoms are typically associated with discernible biomedical abnormalities. This makes it difficult for them to have their symptoms treated. In many cases some physicians will refuse to treat the patients, some insurance companies do not even cover the treatment for some contested illnesses. Because of the gray area connected with contested illness many patients who actually meet the criteria are not receiving their benefits. (Conrad & Barker, 2010)

Many people who have impairments do not see them as disabilities. They see them as who they are and that if their impairment were to be taken away from them they would no longer be that person. For an example, a person who is deaf may not see him or herself as having a disability, rather they see himself as apart of a deaf culture. This is important to them because they see it as part of their identity and what culture they belong to. Illness has social and cultural meanings. This is how seizures are seen in the Hmong culture. They are seen as good, compared to in out culture they are seen as a disease or illness. (Scully, 2004)

These meanings may provide different consequences to both patrines and the health care system. What this means is that how the illness is viewed by society will determine how much support is provided at solving the current issue. In today’s world what illness are considered to be disability is determined because of societal reasons instead of biological ones. (Scully, 2004)

This can be supported in the novel The Spirit Catches you when you fall. The Hmong believe that Lias’s seizures were a good thing as in western culture it is seen as an illness that requires medical attention. On page 261 Fadiman states three suggestions for Lia’s pediatricians. “First, get rid of the term compliance. It’s a lousy term. It Implies moral hegemony.”(Fadiman,1997)

Throughout the novel and even in today’s culture compliance is necessary to be successful. Because the Hmog and the Doctors could not comply with one another they were not able to care for Lia the best they could have. An example of this is the language barrier that they had. The language barrier did not allow the doctors and the Hmong to communicate about Lia’s condition and treatment.

The Hmong were not even able to understand all of the treatment that was being done they just signed for it with no real understanding. Second, “instead of looking at a model of coercion, look at a model of mediation, go find a member of the Hmong community, or go find a medical anthropologist, who can help you negotiate. Remember that a stance of mediation requires compromise on both sides. Decide what is critical and be willing to compromise on everything.”(Fadiman,1997) Lia would have been able to be treated more effective if the Hmong and the doctors were able to compromise and work together effectively to meet a common goal which was to help Lia. Third, “If you can’t see that your own culture has its own set of interests, emotions, and biases, how can you expect to deal successfully with someone else’s culture?”(Fadiman,1997) Many people in today’s society do not see their own culture and society and bias. This means that they are unable to deal with other cultures successfully because they fail to comply. This is what happened throughout the book because the Hmong and the Doctors failed to see their own bias and culture which did not allow them to accept and work with each other to reach a common goal which was to help Lia. (Conrad & Barker, 2010)

Many disabilities are caused because of events and situations that occur after birth, such as aging, illness, and trauma. Only a small portion of impairments is directly connected to genetics. Although disease and disability is often seen as the same thing this is wrong because they are not the same thing.

Impairment is also a term that’s definition is controversial. Some would argue that disability, disease, and impairment can all be considered the same. If a person in impaired from birth does this change our view of how the disability is to be viewed by culture compared to somebody who developed a disability after birth due to an event or situation.

To conclude the definition of disease and health is very objective from person to person and their cultural and societal background. Many believed that diseases is the opposite of health. However, we found that this definition does not work because we can then ask the question: what is the definition of health. Both of the terms can be viewed completely differently to many people depending on social and cultural influences. Another question that often comes up is what is the difference between disease and disability. Why do we often put them together? Is this the right thing to do? We also answer the question about impairment. We determined that Impairment. The impaired do not see it as a disease or illness. Rather they see it as a culture that are apart of. They see it as if they are just speaking a different language, just as any other cultures do


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