The Conditions for Human Health and Well Being Reside within the Psychosocial Contexts of Life

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 17 Sep 2012

Anthony J. Marsella – TRANSCEND Media Service

As our concern for human health and well being grows with each day, we too often find ourselves seeking solutions within the limitations of our health-care system. We call for more medical services, lower medical costs, more health professionals, better medical technologies, improvements in medical records, greater accessibility and acceptability of health care, and more and more committees, evaluations, and reports to determine why the system is failing for the elderly, poor, minorities, veterans, and youth. Indeed, in many ways, it is failing all of us as concerned and compassionate citizens.

While all of these health-care system limitations are important, they keep us from recognizing and addressing the psychosocial causes that also determine human health and well being – causes that could be addressed directly and immediately by social and political action, and causes that would significantly (1) reduce rates of dysfunction, disorder, and disease, (2) promote human health and well being, and (3) advance the human condition domestically and internationally.

We are excessively concerned with physical aspects of our being – even to the extent we divide up medical specialties along functions and organs. We pursue reductionism endlessly, going from limb, to organ, to cell, to gene, to atom and to molecular space. Clearly, these pursuits are warranted, for they have helped illuminate the substrates and structures of illness and disease. But they cannot alone address nor resolve the tolls exacted on human health and well being forged and sustained within the psychosocial contexts of our lives. No one can deny that scores of illnesses are linked directly to the deprivations of associated poverty?

And yet, we proceed each day to do little or nothing to build communities, societies, and nations in which salutogenic psychosocial contexts of life are developed and promoted. Even as we justly speak of cancer, heart disease, asthma, obesity, and other chronic medical illnesses, we forget that the conditions that give rise to them also reside in the psychosocial contexts of our daily lives — in the stressors and demands that reside in families, friends, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, cities, corporate board rooms, and government offices.

Of special importance as the date of our presidential elections approach, are the contributions politically partisanship is shaping our health and wellbeing problems.  Extreme partisanship is pitting social classes, “races,” minority populations, political parties, genders/sexual preferences, religions, and other sectors against one another. This has kept us from working toward shared solutions for the broad spectrum dysfunctions, disorders, diseases, and deviancies we face. We have come to the point of institutional stasis and paralysis.  No action has become the acceptable norm as groups and political constituencies refuse civil discourse, cooperation and collaboration.

Therefore, I say:

1.         We cannot have health and well being where there is cultural destruction, for this breeds confusion, uncertainty, and conflict;

2.         We cannot have health and well being where there is oppression, for this breeds anger and resentment;

3.         We cannot have health and well being where there is powerlessness, for this breeds helplessness and despair;

4.         We cannot have health and well being where there is poverty, for this breeds hopelessness;

5.         We cannot have health and well being where there is denigration, disdain, and condemnation, for this breeds a sense of low esteem and worthlessness;

6.         We cannot have health and well being where there is violence and aggression, for this breeds fear, anxiety, and dread;

7.         We cannot have health and well being where there is distrust, for this breeds paranoia, suspicion, and isolation;

8.         We cannot have health and well being where there is inequity and inequality, for this breeds resentment, bitterness, and frustration;

9.         We cannot have health and well being where there is humiliation, for this breeds revenge, resentment, and reprisal;

10.       We cannot have health and well being where there is racism, sexism, and ageism, for this restrains opportunity, limits choice, and punishes minority status.

11.     We cannot have health and wellbeing where political partisanship interferes with the process of addressing and resolving governance at local, regional, and national levels.  This leads to uncertainty, confusion, alienation, disgust, and a loss of hope.    

Reflect for a moment on a world in which the described psychosocial conditions are absent or limited. It is possible.

_________________________

Anthony Marsella, Ph.D., a  member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and popular pieces. He can be reached at marsella@hawaii.edu.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 17 Sep 2012.

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