Cancer, Spirit Possession, Old Age

My definition of health applies to both the physical and mental state of a person.  Being physically healthy involves eating right, maintain a moderate level of activity
but not necessarily working out, and keeping your body in working properly to
the best of your ability.  When it comes to being mentally healthy, it is hard to explain my definition because each people have their own definition of what is mental health to them.  The best way I can describe it is just feeling healthy.  This wasn’t always how
I would have described health, originally I felt that being health was an
absence of taking any drugs.  I am currently working on my Masters in Public Health and that has taken a large role in helping shape my current view on not only having physical health but also having mental health.  Public health looks at not only the physical health of communities but their mental health and it is key when looking at public health programs that a communities mental health is also taken into account.

I chose cancer as an illness because it fits my definition for health in the fact that cancer occurs when your body isn’t working properly.  It occurs when the cells are
dividing out of control and the body isn’t able to maintain the proper cycle of
cell life and cell death.  I would classify spirit possession as an illness because it is an example of you possibly not being mentally healthy.  I said that old age is not an illness because you can be a healthy aging person.  As I stated in my definition, health is maintaining your body to the best of your ability, old age is a fact of life and I know plenty of old people that were healthy but it was just their time to go.

To me health is physical and emotional. It’s about how you are objectively in terms of pathology and subjectively in terms of self regard and social comfort. I am certain that my ideas come from everything I am surounded by. People often think what they do based on one or all of three means; cultural tradition, familial indoctrination, and social acceptance.
I regard the flu as a disease because it has a physical virulence factor, something that can be addressed through vaccinations. Erectile dysfunction in my opinion is not a disease but may be an illness depending on one’s perceptions of it. I think that it is a natural thing that often occurs with age. If someone is still young but experiences it perhaps then it may be called a disease. Cancer is also a disease in my opinion.

Spirit Possession

I defined health as “the mental and physical being of a person”, then on a side note said that a healthy person would be free of illness.  It was kind of difficult to define illness. There are a lot of things to consider.  I have learned things and experienced things that have altered my opinion of certain subjects. The way that I defined it at first was “a physical or mental ailment that causes someone to function abnormally”.  Then I thought, what is normal? Does an illness have to have a treatment? Does an illness have to hinder a persons ability to function?  Then we talked about the differences between disease and illness.  Illness is defined by the individual. My thoughts on illness come from my education as an anthropology student, life experiences, and illnesses I have come in contact with. I tend to analyze an idea in every aspect to my knowledge just by nature. I did find it extremely important to include in my definition that an illness could be mental and not just physical.

I am still on the fence about spirit possession. I think I am leaning more towards it not being an illness. It is more of a personal experience. This is an example of where my definition of illness doesn’t fit, because a person who is possessed by a spirit would not be acting normally. And depending on the culture a spirit possession could just be seen as a mental illness like multiple personality disorder or schizophrenia, and it would be treated as such.  Others it would be treated by a holy figure and an exorcism would be performed. Personally, I would have to decide on an individual basis.

Infertility caused by genetics is not an illness.  I see it more as that person had unfavorable genes that should not be passed to the next generation, just a step in natural selection.  It is not truly an ailment and it doesn’t disrupt a person’s ability to function normally.

Cancer is my view is absolutely an illness. It attacks that bodies cells and disrupts the natural function of the body.  It can also have mental implications and cause problems in other areas besides that which is directly effected.

Old Age

I would describe health as a homeostasis of the body, every aspect (physical, mental, internal, external, etc.) is working normally and properly.  Therefore, illness being the opposite, would be the event in which some aspect is abnormal, and can effect or interrupt normal daily routines.  Illness could range from a disease or chronic health issue such as cancer, heart disease, or epilepsy, to something minor like the flu or strept, to things like anxiety, depression, or ADHD. Although these things are pretty obvious and straight forward, there are as always some complications. For example, just because one is diagnosed with a medical condition doesn’t mean it effects their normal day to day life in anyway.  A person can be epileptic & be seizure free, or maybe someone has become so accustomed to something, it doesn’t effect them anymore or theyve simply learned to deal with it – are they still considered ill if its not interupting normal routines? I believe that although there is often an obvious distinction between health and illness (not always so obvious, others often had no idea i had epilepsy growing up), that it is also all relative.  I may be epileptic, and will always be, but I no longer have seizures & am off most of my medication (and off more all the time), and compared to most in similar circumstances, I am perfectly healthy.

For me, alot of whats healthy or not has come from personal experiences.  I’ve spent more time than most in hospitals & with the health system, either with my own medical issues or those of family members.  I also have almost always worked in the medical field, doing anything, so I’ve become pretty familiar with it all.  As stated though, my family has played a pretty big part as well, whether with their own health issues or supporting me through mine (or overprotecting, etc.). I do believe however that society/culture, and therefore media as its tool, are the biggest culprits of where these ideas come from.  They decide what is viewed as normal or abnormal, healthy or unhealthy, and in doing so dictate what we think and believe.  This is such a big deal, because these views can vary so greatly between cultures.

Cancer: most definitely an illness, or more specificcly a disease.  Its debilitating and often fatal.

Infertility: is an illness, can be treated medically, is often seen as something more/other than an illness in other cultures however

Old Age: i don’t really see this as an illness so much as a natural progression in life, it was hard to categorize though b/c it could be placed there & b/c scietist are working on ways to cure it

Shyness: although this can be treated, i didn’t classify this is an illness, its a characteristic (often of introverts) and the so called treatment is really just learning, or even forcing oneself, to be more outgoing

Old Age

The condition that was most difficult to put into either category as being an illness or not being an illness was old age. I do not believe old age is an illness in itself. I chose to focus on menstruation, insomina, and old age. When it comes to menstruation as a woman I would say that menstruation is an illness. I personally experience very intense menstruation cramps and it gets to the point where I cannot consume food because my pain is so intense that I cannot keep any food down without taking my medication to avoid pain and vomiting. When it comes to old age it is a natural part of life that every will face. Old age is like a right of passage that people experience in life and can be seen as an illness in a sense because it leads to the deteriorating of a person’ physical and mental health. Experiencing old age is a part of life and an illness.

I do not believe insomnia is an illness because it can be properly treated and avoided and there is no direct physical pain that a person can experience if they miss a few nights of sleep. When it comes to defining health I believe health is the physical and mental well being of a person. Illness is the sickly alignment or condition that the person is in. The deciding factors depend on the physical and mental symptoms that the person is experiencing. Biologically, genes and the person’s physical environment pay a significant impact on the person’s health. I think these ideas came from society through the family and they have been passed on from generation to generation. However, I do believe that today the media plays a major role in promoting certain health concepts and ideas with advertisements and commercials. Old age is not really an illness in itself. However, it can in turn lead to health problems over time but that can also be the result of what your body was experiencing during the early and middle stages of your life.


The approach I chose that I believe will be useful for studying health is the applied approach. This approach seems to me have to do with all the aspects of health. It’s doesn’t only have to do with western medicine but includes other ways people practice.

The difference between disease and illness depends on the individual because some people believe disease and illness are the same while others consider they are different. I believe there is a distinction between disease and illness. A disease is described as an abnormal disorder affecting the body of a being. Illness is defined as a “state experienced by the body when one or more of the control systems lose the ability to maintain homeostasis”. Those two definitions is shy I believe there is a difference between illness and disease. “Every disease is an illness but not every illness is a disease”.

Miner is talking about the North American culture is his story The Body Ritual of the Nacirema. I recognized very early within the first two paragraphs of his article. The first is the “holy-mouth man” which in reality is called the dentist. Most people are cautious about how their teeth look and how their breath smells. No one really wants to hear from someone their breath smells bad or their teeth are not so clean. Society puts value the dentist because some want to have their teeth be as white as the stars teeth are. However the dentist is also there to help people who have pain associated with the teeth decaying or anything that has to do with the mouth. Second is the “listener” which I couldn’t get at first and had to read it two more times to get it. Society does place value on psychiatrists and etc. to help them solve problems they believe they can’t on their own. However going to see a counselor can very well save someone’s life. Third is the one I found most interesting “bake their heads in small ovens”. I personally love having my hair done a lot so reading it was an eye opener. Miner is basically saying American woman put so much value on their hair we are welling stuck them in small ovens to look good.

Spirit Possession

When I think about defining words like health and illness it brings me back to my Ethics in Public Health Care class. In this class we looked at tens of definitions attempting to narrow down what health is so that appropriate action can be taken. In this context, I think it’s important to generalize more rather than go into specifics. Health to me is like mentioned in the lecture, an absence of illness and vice versa. One cannot be defined explicitly without the other. Both are referring to not just the effects on one’s physical attributes, but mental and spiritual in some cases.

Personally, I believe my thoughts on this has come from my education as of now. Before that however, I would say a combination between my family, the media, and what personal experiences I’ve had. My father is a doctor so that has allowed me to both be sensitive as well as casually accept the physical and mental changes that occur throughout time. I’ve learned what should be taken seriously versus what I can easily brush off. And of course the media has played a role, because that is part of the experience of evolving as a person in society today.

Cancer to me is clearly an illness. It is something foreign to the body, negatively effecting it and in turn, damaging the body.

Menstruation was a little more tricky for me, but I believe it is not an illness. This is because it is not causing harm or pain to negatively impact a person. It is a natural cycle of life, and necessary to survive for a woman.

Finally, Spirit possession to me was the most complex of the options. This is because depending on the culture you’re in it could be good or bad. For that reason, I would say it could be an illness, but it would be up for debate.

Spirit Possession

I would define health as a state of well-being, where one is both physically and mentally well. I believe that if someone is physically well and feels well, then they are in a state of health. If one or both of these conditions is not met, then the individual is ill. I would then define illness as a disturbance in an individual’s health that has a negative impact on their physical or mental well-being. I think that these ideas came from the media and from school. When I think of the ways that health and illness are described by the media, anything that significantly perturbs an individual’s health is considered to be an illness. The Biology classes that I have taken have focused more on infectious agents and how they can affect an individual, and infectious agents fit well with the idea that an illness is a disturbance in an individual’s health considering that bacteria and viruses can often cause quite a disturbance in their host.

The three conditions I decided to talk about are Old Age, Insomnia, and Spirit Possession. I believe that Old Age is not an illness, just a normal stage of life. One could argue that as someone ages they are no longer physically well and therefore ill, but I believe that Old Age is an exception to my definition of health. Even though an individual’s physical and mental condition deteriorates with age, Old Age is effectively unavoidable and it is for this reason that I do not consider it to be an illness.  For Insomnia, I believe that it is an illness when it occurs with a high frequency. I do not consider one or two sleepless nights a month to be indicative of an illness, but I believe that chronic insomnia is an illness, due to the severe impact it can have on an individual’s health. Spirit Possession was the hardest for me to categorize because while I do not believe in the existence of spirits, an individual who claims to be possessed by a spirit is probably ill with some sort of mental condition, provided that they are not simply lying about their condition for whatever reason.


My definition of health is broken down into two broad categories that can be related and often are.  First, mental health, which can have internal and external determinants. Internally, your body is obviously a complex system that involves an incredible amount of processes, hormones, enzymes, etc. Take depression as an example. It is often related to internal imbalances as well environmental factors that you are exposed to. Physical health has more to do with how well your body is “inline” with homeostasis.  Any irregularities or deterrents to homeostasis, with few exceptions, could likely have a negative effect on personal health. An aberration in physical health can often lead to a mental health issue.

Illness is of course negatively related to health. To me, illness can be defined as any condition, disease, or sickness that has a negative effect on one’s mental or physical health. Determining what qualifies as an illness has become increasingly difficult in society today. Due to misplaced motives, validating “conditions” has become big business for unacceptable and inhumane reasons.

My ideas and definitions to health and illness have come from a wide variety of places.  I’m guessing some of my views and opinions have been influenced from sources I’m not even aware of. I’d like to think that the majority of my views come from my education and personal experiences.

Cancer- This to me, is definitely an illness.  It requires treatment and threatens life.

Menstruation- This was a yes and no for me. In most women, it’s a natural process.  So in that regard, I would say no. However, it does cause discomfort and symptoms of illness. Because of this, it could be considered to be an illness.

Old age- This was a somewhat complicated decision. Initially I thought no, wavered, and ultimately concluded no. It’s a natural process and in the past I haven’t though of it as an illness. Thinking about it in depth now, old age is often associated with illness. The likelihood of illness increases with old age. Therefore, I would lean towards old age being more of a precursor to illness, not an illness in itself.


Based on my personal understandings, I define health as a point at which all biological aspects of the body, such as the internal organs, muscles, blood and brain, are functioning properly. With this understanding I can conclude that illness is defined as having diseases or medical conditions that hinders the body from performing basic tasks that necessitates proper functionality. These tasks include but are not limited to walking, breathing, digestion, cognitive recognition and excretion.

The definitions I utilized to define the terms health and disease were influenced by two main factors, family and personal experiences. Being a person that was born and raised for part of her life in the south, the members within my family and community refers to anyone that suffers from any sort of internal physical ailment as a person that is ill. Whether the ailment is a stomach or indigestion, the physical discomfort is categorized as an illness. Personal life experiences have also aided in my personal understanding of health and illness. Throughout my life I have suffered from a variety of illnesses. Issues such as chronic bronchitis, stomach ulcers, severe respiratory inflammation and infections and pneumonia are a few of the health complications that I have experienced. The physical responses my body made to the illness has greatly influenced how I perceive health. Normal human functions were often hindered giving rise to the need of assistance and medical attention.

In the illness activity, there were three conditions that I felt were not illnesses. The first condition was menstruation. I felt this condition was not an illness because being a woman that has had personal experience with this I do not feel that my basic bodily functions are hindered. Eating, breathing and walking are all functions that I can accomplish without any medical assistance. The second condition was erectile dysfunction. Though one part of the male anatomy does not function fully, a man is still able to carry out living a normal functioning lifestyle and utilize certain aspects of the organ as intended. The final condition evaluated is infertility. I categorize it within the same confines as erectile dysfunction. The rest of a woman’s internal organs function in their proper manner.