Throughout much of the 20th century, the medical model was the paradigm used to understand health in the western world (uOttawa, n.d.). It is a model which has many merits. However, it is also one which “emphasizes treating specific physical diseases, does not accommodate mental or social problems well and, being concerned with resolving health problems, de-emphasizes prevention.” (uOttawa, n.d.).
The medical model focuses on treating conditions, and in this regard many groundbreaking advances have been made. New interventions have greatly contributed to the health of individuals all over the world. Even with this success, though, prevention and wellness are also becoming increasingly important.
The World Health Organization (WHO) currently defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” (World Health Organization, n.d.) This distinction is a significant one, as more and more professionals and institutions raise awareness about wellness. Continue reading to learn more about these transformative developments.
Why Wellness Is so Important
Over the last several decades, increasing amounts of research have illuminated just how important mental, emotional, physical, and social wellness can be. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, for example, found that caring and close relationships “protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.” (Mineo, 2017). Researchers have also found that meditation can have a significant impact on health, given that “A research review published in JAMA Internal Medicine in January 2014 found meditation helpful for relieving anxiety, pain, and depression. For depression, meditation was about as effective as an antidepressant.” (Harvard Medical School, 2014)
On the flip side of these findings, others have helped to demonstrate just how harmful neglecting these aspects can be. Chronic stress is linked with many different health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and gastrointestinal problems (American Psychological Association, 2014). Loneliness can also have a negative impact on physical health, “by raising levels of stress hormones and inflammation, which in turn can increase the risk of heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, dementia and even suicide attempts.” (Brody, 2017). In addition, more and more governments and institutions around the world are recognizing that investing in preventative and social programs can help to reduce healthcare costs (Picard, 2018) (Government of Canada, 2010). For those aiming to become a wellness counsellor, there is therefore plenty of possibility to have a lasting and positive impact on the lives of others.
What Students in Wellness Counsellor Training Can Learn from the WHO
Students in wellness counsellor training will be happy to know that wellness and mental health is becoming increasingly important to the World Health Organization. It has even asserted that “Mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.” (World Health Organization, 2018)
The WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” (World Health Organization, 2018). For this reason, the WHO has endeavoured to improve these dimensions. Among the types of initiatives it recommends are life skills programs for children; programs for vulnerable people, including minorities, indigenous peoples, and migrants; and workplace stress prevention programs, among many other options (World Health Organization, 2018).
In addition, the World Health Assembly approved in 2013 the creation and implementation of a “Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan for 2013-2020” (World Health Organization, 2018). This action plan is meant to “provide comprehensive, integrated and responsive mental health and social care services in community-based settings,” as well as “implement strategies for promotion and prevention in mental health,” in addition to promoting leadership and improving research (World Health Organization, 2018). It’s an exciting development that has the potential to have a significant impact on communities all over the world.
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American Psychological Association (2014) Stress effects on the body. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx
Brody, J. E. (2017) The Surprising Effects of Loneliness on Health. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/well/mind/how-loneliness-affects-our-health.html
Government of Canada (2010) Creating a Healthier Canada: Making Prevention a Priority. Government of Canada. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/healthy-living/creating-a-healthier-canada-making-prevention-a-priority.html
Harvard Medical School (2014) What meditation can do for your mind, mood, and health. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/what-meditation-can-do-for-your-mind-mood-and-health-
Mineo, L. (2017) Good genes are nice, but joy is better. The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved from: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/
Picard, A. (2018) Canada must rethink health spending strategy. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/new-study-says-canada-must-rethink-health-spending-strategy/article37679063/
uOttawa (n.d.) Society, the Individual, and Medicine. University of Ottawa. Retrieved from: http://www.med.uottawa.ca/sim/data/health_definitions_e.htm
World Health Organization (2018) Mental health: strengthening our response. World Health Organization. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response
World Health Organization (n.d.) Constitution of WHO: principles. World Health Organization. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/about/mission/en/