Health and illness seem to me to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum; they seem to be antonyms of one another. I defined health as one that is able to live freely without medicine and without feeling poorly either mentally and/or physically. I then defined illness as the reliance on medicine (either modern or other) and is debilitated either mentally and/or physically by that illness. I used my own experiences and observations of others around me. If one is considered healthy, I looked at why I considered them to be healthy. I ask myself these questions when asking is someone healthy: are they medically dependent? Are they able to physically exert themselves in a way of taking care of themselves and others? Do they complain or visually appear to be in pain? Are they at a healthy body weight? When I consider if someone has an illness, I think: Are they reliant on daily medications?

However, after asking those questions for this activity, I realized, it’s not as easy to define health and illness. The criteria that I had for both health and illness came from my family, society and personal experience. When I was younger, I based everything on how people appeared. Were they skinny? Then they must be healthy. However, now that I’m older, I realize health is not defined by looks but by practice. My family was obsessed with weight and appearance. If someone gained weight then they “let themselves go”, also meaning they were unhealthy. This is not always the case and thinness and fullness should not be used as a deciding factor of one’s internal health.

The two conditions I chose were HIV and Old Age. I think HIV can be considered an illness because its based on the human experience. There’s such a stigma surrounding it but if one has HIV and has little to no symptoms, the general public would not know they are sick. Old Age, I think is an illness. The perception of old age is informed by broader social contexts and the societal outlook on what it is to get old. Old age is not appreciated in our society like it is in others. It’s more of a downfall to get old rather than a privilege, which is unfortunate.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Connor DeMars says:

    HIV is perceived differently between cultures. The article “International comparison of medical students’ perceptions of HIV infection and AID” compared the perceptions of HIV and AIDS in two different countries with different cultural backgrounds. They compared medical students from New Jersey Medical School and from Benin Medical School in Nigeria. The New Jersey students were way more educated and had more good attitudes regarding HIV and AIDS. The Benin students had higher misperceptions about how HIV is transmitted. The New Jersey students had more sexual intercourse and used condoms more than the Benin students who also had more sex partners. The concern of contracting AIDS was also higher among the New Jersey students. This study goes to show that within each culture, the education is different, and the study of HIV and AIDS in Nigeria compared to the United States was worse. Clearly, the Benin students didn’t care about contracting these viruses as much, which could be a part of their culture or it could be the way HIV and AIDS education was taught there. Either way, every illness is perceived differently between varying cultures and the only way to find out the differences is by doing studies and experiments like they did with the medical schools from the US and Nigeria.

    U.S. National Library of Medicine. “International comparison of medical students’ perceptions of HIV infection and AIDS.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.

  2. James Conwell says:

    Perception of HIV by young, heterosexual men is dependent on the socio-cultural factor. In the article “Cultural Factors in young heterosexual men’s perception of HIV risk” the author analyzes the perceptions of a sample of 19-year olden men in Glasgow, Scotland. Educated young men, who were involved in a form of higher education, tended to believe that no particular group was at risk for HIV, but rather everyone who was sleeping around was at risk. This group of young men seemed to practice safe-sex, and this cohort often mentioned HIV public health education messages. This is contrasted with the unemployed group of young men, who did not believe any of the government’s education on HIV and safe-sex, and expressed fantastical thoughts on how HIV is spread, including being unlucky. There was a patriarchal dichotomy among respondents, differentiating between “nice girls” and “slags” and very often, it was believed that the “slags” (insulting term for an allegedly promiscuous girl) were more likely to have HIV. Condom use when those men engaged in sexual activity with a “slag” seemed to vary, but it was understood that one should wear a condom.
    It is evident that young men in Scotland were likely to have different perceptions of HIV depending on their social class, and interpretation of public health education regarding HIV. Although, it may be important to note that while the educated cohort tended to believe that no particular group was at risk, they were willing to group “slags” into a group that more likely had HIV. Those with multiple partners were less likely to use sexual protection, yet still identified certain partners as more likely to be at HIV risk. Overall, social factors and life-style choices impact the perception of HIV among young men.

    Daniel Wright, “Cultural Factors in young heterosexual men’s perception of HIV risk,” Sociology of Health and Illness 6(2001):735-758.

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