Body Mind-Spirit


Definitions of Health, Illness and Sickness

Definition: Health

Happiness“...[S]tate of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease, or infirmity” (WHO 1946).

Health is not an easy term to define. For some it encompasses mental health, for others physical and mental health are compartmentalized.

A perception of health or mental health is not only defined within the medical context, but it is also defined by the patient within a sociocultural context that includes family and social network as well as a wide selection of potential providers. Such definitions may vary from one culture to another. Research among ethnic groups in the U.S. demonstrates the complexity in a non-clinical definition of health and illness. (Maloof 1991).

For children and adults, three main categories may be considered: physical appearance, emotional disposition, and behavioral traits. For many adults, the functional component is a critical factor in defining health or illness--in the absence of symptoms, there is no disease. A world view of many cultural groups integrates physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, and holds that all three are necessary for optimal health. Even within the biomedical model, cultural values are reflected when it comes to diagnosing and treating disease (Helman 1990: 63-68).

Definition: Illness


Illness refers to the sociocultural context within which disease is experienced. The patient and his/her family label, classify, and explain the sickness episode in such a way that it can be personally and socially meaningful (Kleinman 1978).

Definition: Sickness

Sickness can also be regarded as a concept that combines the biomedical model (disease) with the sociocultural context of the patient (illness). Spirituality and religion can potentially play an important role in defining, understanding, and responding to disease within “illness.” For the “disease” part of sickness, the personal beliefs of a health or mental health care provider must also be considered, as they impact patient-provider communication.

sickness chart



« Definitions and Discussion
of Spirituality & Religion