According to the dictionary, the word health is “the state of being free from illness. ” At a first glance, this defination seems to be very direct and simple, however the meaning of the word ‘health’ nowadays is much more complex. The above definition pretty much sums up our view of health in the first half of the 20th century. But over the past few decades, the definititon and concept of health has evolved to encompass more elements than just the physical well-being of a person. This is partly attributed to various researches and studies that have taken place around the world in the last 60 years.
Already in 1948, the World Health Organization declared that health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. ” Since then, various studies have expanded on that definitaion to demonstarte that there is more more to health than mere physical fitness. These studies shed light on the varoius external factors that can potentially affect everyone’s health. Realizing the importance of these factors, the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion was drawn up in 1986 in Canada.
It declared that health is “created and lived by people within the settings of their everyday life; where they learn, work, play and love”. The charter also mentioned that health is determined by complex interactions between economic and social factors, the physical environment and individual behavior. In 1998, Health Canada, the Federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health, developed a comprehensive list of twelve factors, called the Social Determinants of Health. These social determinants were claimed to have a major affect on health and hence they redefined the way we look at health today.
These include : a person’s income, social support, education, employment and working conditions, social and physical environments, personal health practices, healthy child development, biology and genetic endowment, health services, gender, and culture. It is the combined influence of these determinants that determines an individual’s health status. Furthermore, these determinants do not exist in isolation from each other. In order to propogate the knowledge of above determinants and improve health status of Canadians, Health Canada has set up a number of community eath organizations and agencies.
The work of these agencies can consist of creating awareness, improving socio-economic status, advocating better working conditions and so on. Unfortunately, many groups such as aboriginal people, recent immigrants and people with disabilities experience challenges in accessing these resources and still cotinue to lead an unhealthy life. One such non-profit agency whch provides opportunities for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities is located on Stewart street in downtown Peterborough.
This agency helps people in developing skills in the area of volunteerism, recreation and community service. They also provide support for people with barriers to employment through an employment service program. Therefore, one can say that this agency deals primarily with social determinants of education, employment and social support networks. Education is an important social determinant of health because it affects many other determinants. Generally, people with worst health status have low education levels.
Furthermore, people with low levels of education are more likely to have lifestyles which can lead to a chronic illness. Education empowers people with skills to solve problems and increases opportunities for an individual to access economic and social benefits in the society. This particular agency helps the needy by educating them with skills such as basic computer skills, resume writing and job interview preparation. The next determinant that this agency is linked to is employment. Employment has a significant effect on a person’s physical, mental and social health.
Only one half of all working canadians have a single, full time job that has lasted six months or more. The percentage of candadians in full time jobs has dropped from 67 percent in 1989 to 63 percent in 2000. Paid work provides not only money, but also a sense of identity and purpose. When a person loses these benefits, the results can be devastating to both the health of the individual and his or her family. Unemployed people have a reduced life expectancy and suffer significantly more health problems than people who have a job.
The continual anxiety, insecurity, low self esteem and lack of control over work and home life have powerful effects on the cardiovascular and immune system. These individuals experience long term stress and are more vulnerable to conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and depression. This agency helps individuals in finding, keeping or preparing for jobs. Some examples of the tailored help are: building confidance, helping individuals with less education find volunteer work, empowering immigrants of their rights at work, helping people with previous police record to find jobs among other things.
The third social determinant that relates to this agency is to help develop a sense of community among the disabled clients. Social support from families, friends and communities has been associated with better health. Belonging to a social network makes people feel loved, esteemed and valued. The percentage of Canadians who reported a disability in the year 2009 was 12. 4%. People with disabilities are less likely to be employed and, when they are employed, earn less than people without disabilities.
A study done in 2004 showed that people with disabilities who live in a supportive home and have community support are less likely to experience depression and chronic diseases. This particular agency provides the disabled clients and their families with a number of services. For example, they arrange recreational activities, provide housing and vocational assistance and refer them to other useful agencies. By befriending these clients, the agency workers also provide them with a sense of community and belonging.
In conclusion, the value and importance of social determinants cannot be undermined. They affect each one of us at some point in our lives. The past research and experience has taught us that one cannot disregard these social, economic and environmental factors that influence the health of individuals and population. These determinants do not exist in isolation of each other. It is the combined influence of these determinats of health that determines health status. It is vital for every health professional to be aware of these determinants and their affect on our well being.