The World Health Organization (WHO) defines “health” as, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
WHO published this in the preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization, finalized in 1948. The Organization hasn’t changed the definition since then.
Sixty years later, it’s the right definition. But why hasn’t western society adopted this into public policy? (More on that in tomorrow’s Perspective).
As individuals, we surely understand this. We learn it on our own, sometimes painfully. For me, the importance of integrating the physical, mental and social hit home when my mother, Polly, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease in 1971. Her prognosis was not good; six to twelve months was the outlook at the time.
Polly lived an additional eight years beyond that dire forecast. Along with a partnering internist open to learning about and trying new therapies, clinical knowledge culled from Index Medicus by a close friend who was a librarian, and adopting the advice of Adele Davis’s Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit and Let’s Get Well, Polly integrated one other factor into her life that positively influenced her health: a loving, large, and supportive social network.
Remember, this was the era of off-line social networks; she didn’t have access to this online world of reaching out to People Like Her.
Polly benefited from a buoyant social network: a loving husband, three daughters, countless friends, workmates in her school, colleagues long-valued from leading her town’s Salk vaccine field committee, and nine older brothers and sisters and their families. All of these supporters rallied around her, surrounding her with abundant love, laughs, faith and affection.
Since she died in 1979, I’ve consumed innumerable books, peer-reviewed journal articles, and blogs that connect the dots between social networks, spirituality, and health. From Bernie Siegel’s stories to Kitchen Table Wisdom, I know first-hand the healing power of love, faith, and bountiful hugs.
Whether off-line or on-, social networks buoy the spirit and, in doing so, help us reach WHO’s integrative realization of whole health.