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

Anthony Marsella

As our concern for human health and well being grows with each day, we find ourselves too often looking to solutions within limitations of the health care system. We speak of the need for more medical services, lower medical costs, more health professionals, better medical technologies, improvements in medical records, greater access to health care, and more research.

While all of these factors are important, they distract us from recognizing and addressing the very psychosocial causes that ultimately limit human health and well being – causes that could be addressed directly and immediately and that would significantly reduce dysfunction, disorder, and disease, and promote human health and well being.

We are infatuated with the physical. We pursue reductionism endlessly, going from limb, to organ, to cell, to gene, to atom and molecular space. All of these pursuits are warranted for they have helped illuminate the substrates and structures of illness. But they cannot in and of themselves address the tolls on human health and well being that are exacted within the psychosocial contexts of our lives. For example, can anyone deny that a reduction in poverty would limit scores of illnesses associated with the deprivations of poverty?

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

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

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

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

PsySR Past President Anthony Marsella is Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Hawaii. Although retired, he continues to lecture and write on the many social challenges facing our global community. Tony can be reached directly at marsella@hawaii.edu.

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