Health and disability are contested concepts.

Definitions of these concepts depend on a number of factors including:

Sociological perspective

Time

Place

Discuss what is meant by health and what is meant by disability? In the boxes below define the two terms.

Health is…

Health

The World Health Organisation defined health in 1948 as:

‘A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.

This definition took a more positive view of health than previous definitions which had often been rather negative. It also included mental and social well-bearing as well as physical well-being. However it does raise the issue in contemporary society of what is meant by ‘complete’?

In 1986 WHO argued the definition should be:

‘Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities.’

Other definitions include a more specific list for example an American Foundation argued health should be about:

'Social, occupational, spiritual, physical, intellectual and emotional well-being'

(Pacific Northwest Foundation).

Disability is…

Disability

The definition of disability has evolved over time.

The Equality Act 2010 defined disability as to whether a person has ‘…a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on [the] ability to do normal daily activities’.

Barnes and Oliver, two sociologists, argue that ‘…disability can no longer be considered solely as a medical problem affecting only a minority of the population but must be perceived as a civil rights issue as central to mainstream sociological discourse and analysis as class, gender, race and sexuality [are].’

The British Council of Organisations of Disabled People argue that:
"Disability is the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a society that takes little or no account of people who have impairments and thus excludes them from mainstream activity."

The definition of disability is not just a legal definition but in sociology in particular is predicated on theoretical approaches:

  • The medical approach

This approach argues that disability is the inability to carry out activities as a result of impairment/s.

  • The social approach

The social approach argues that the limitation of activity is not caused by impairments but is a consequence of societal activity/ies. People are disabled by the way society is organised.

Can you match the concept to the definition?

Concept Definition
Disease
Epidemiology
Iatrogenesis
Illness iceberg
Inverse care law
Life expectancy
Medicalisation
Morbidity
Mortality
Mortality rate
The sick role
Stigma
Concept Definition
Disease A clinical condition which may have been diagnosed and treated by members of the medical profession.
Epidemiology The measurement of diseases in specific populations. It is the study of the distribution of diseases and other health related issues in a specified population. The study of the patterns and trends of these diseases. It enables medical scientists to understand the causes and the patterns of diseases and other health related issues.
Iatrogenesis There are 4 types of iatrogenesis. Clinical iatrogenesis occurs when the treatment of an illness leads to further damage to the patient.
Illness iceberg A significant number of people do not go the doctors when they get symptoms thus the morbidity rates do not reflect the real extent of illness in the population.
Inverse care law Those who need most care tend to ask for less.
Life expectancy The age at which a person is expected to live based on their year of birth.
Medicalisation The extent to which social problems are assumed to be a medical problem. Also the extent to which a normal activity has been taken over by the medical profession. Medicalisation is linked to the bio-medical model of health.
Morbidity Illness and disease. Illness and death per 1000 of the population.
Mortality Death.
Mortality rate Deaths per 1000 of the population.
The sick role When someone is ill they should visit the doctor or nurse because they want to get better. They have obligations and rights and responsibilities if they are unable to perform their usual social roles.
Stigma A negative label applied to someone which then causes them to become stigmatised. If they accept the label then the stigma becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A clinical condition which may have been diagnosed and treated by members of the medical profession. The measurement of diseases in specific populations. It is the study of the distribution of diseases and other health related issues in a specified population. The study of the patterns and trends of these diseases. It enables medical scientists to understand the causes and the patterns of diseases and other health related issues. There are 4 types of iatrogenesis. Clinical iatrogenesis occurs when the treatment of an illness leads to further damage to the patient. A significant number of people do not go the doctors when they get symptoms thus the morbidity rates do not reflect the real extent of illness in the population. Those who need most care tend to ask for less. The age at which a person is expected to live based on their year of birth. The extent to which social problems are assumed to be a medical problem. Also the extent to which a normal activity has been taken over by the medical profession. Medicalisation is linked to the bio-medical model of health. Illness and disease. Illness and death per 1000 of the population. Death. Deaths per 1000 of the population. When someone is ill they should visit the doctor or nurse because they want to get better. They have obligations and rights and responsibilities if they are unable to perform their usual social roles. A negative label applied to someone which then causes them to become stigmatised. If they accept the label then the stigma becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Can you match the concept to the example and sociologist/theory?

Concept Example Sociologist/Theory
Epidemiology
Iatrogenesis
Inverse care law
Medicalisation
The sick role
Stigma
Concept Example Sociologist/Theory
Epidemiology The study for example of outbreaks of measles or the study of where particular cancers are most commonly found. These large statistical studies are usually carried out by the Department of Health
Iatrogenesis For example this may occur as a result of side effects of drugs such as Thalidimide. Illich
Inverse care law Tudor-Hart
Medicalisation Drug use
Pregnancy
The sick role A person who has broken their leg who then has the right to medical treatment and the obligation to make every effort to get better. Parsons
Stigma Person with a mental or physical deformity may be stigmatised. Goffman
The study for example of outbreaks of measles or the study of where particular cancers are most commonly found. These large statistical studies are usually carried out by the Department of Health For example this may occur as a result of side effects of drugs such as Thalidimide. Illich Tudor-Hart Drug use, Pregnancy A person who has broken their leg who then has the right to medical treatment and the obligation to make every effort to get better. Parsons Person with a mental or physical deformity may be stigmatised. Goffman

Can you identify an example and a sociologist/theory to each concept?

Concept Example Sociologist/Theory
Disease
Illness iceberg
Life expectancy
Morbidity
Morbidity rate
Mortality
Mortality rate