An introduction to the biopsychosocial approach
Many people seem to think and act like health begins and ends with the body. For a long time that is how scientists thought about health as well. However, before modern medicine, there were philosophies of health that incorporated more than just the physical. For some cultures the connection among health and wellbeing, the mind, body and even society has long been recognized.
The Mind and Health
If you are trying to fix your body (your physical health) without giving any attention to your mind (mental health) you are leaving out an important element in your health. Our minds and bodies are not separate, your mind is part of your body and has a direct and indirect effect on many of your body’s functions. Even our thoughts and psychological state can have an effect on health because it is literally all connected.
Your mind not only exerts a direct and indirect influence on neurochemicals and hormones in your body; your mind is part of your body. Thus if your mind is not healthy, you are not healthy. Mental health self-care, stress reduction and developing healthy habits of thought are important to overall health because they enhance your mental health. Some foods and nutrients that are particularly important for brain health include blueberries, sage, tomatoes, foods containing healthy fats like fish and nuts such as cashews, foods with B vitamins, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, foods with zinc and other nutrient rich, plant foods.
In addition, our mental state, your thoughts, knowledge and motivation also influence your health behaviors. If you don’t think about your health and you do not make conscious choices to act in healthier ways, there can be a good chance you are not living up to your healthy potential. Your mind needs to be healthy and your thought processes need to be compatible with good health.
The Social Parts of Health
Another often ignored aspect of health is the social aspect. Yes, your social atmosphere affects your health. There are several levels to the social aspects of health:
1. Friends and Family
There is a popular saying by Jim Rohn that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” When it comes to health this is often true. Your health behaviors are influenced by the people you’re around, especially your family and friends. Chances are you will generally be eating similar foods to what they are eating, you will be doing similar amounts of physical activity as they are doing, you will probably have similar drinking habits to your friends (especially if you go out drinking with them) and your health behaviors will be similar to theirs. This is because the people around you influence what you think is the norm and unless you are actively trying to do something different, you will simply be swept along in the tide of what is normal for you and those around you
2. Social Support
Social support is important for when you are trying to change or maintain healthy behaviors. Even if those around you do not themselves change, whether or not they support your healthy behavior or self-care can influence how motivated and successful you are. Your friends and family can serve as cheerleaders and coaches to you when you are trying improve your health.
3. The Larger Society
Society as a whole has a real influence on health, yours and everyone else’s. The policies, infrastructure, the services available and to whom they are available, the environment, pollution, safety, chronic stressors etc. all influence health. Your health will be better if you live in a place with clean air, have fresh fruits and vegetables available and that you can afford, have access to health services and safe places to exercise, than it would be if you did not have all these things. It all ties together.
The approach I like to take as a health educator is a biopsychosocial approach. The word (and the approach) combines the biology (the body and its functions, including genetics), the psychology (the mental aspect of health) and the social (including social norms, social support and the state of society at large). It would be useful if you consider taking this approach to thinking about your own health as well. That way you will be more aware of how it all fits together and how you can better manage your own wellbeing in the midst of all these influences. Health is more than the physical, so the more holistically we think about our health the more informed and effective we can become about our health choices.
© 2015 Kelene Blake, All Rights Reserved