The preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) defined health as a state of “physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
However, in the paper entitled “Spirituality in the Definition of Health The World Health Organization’s Point of View”, M.H. Khayat writes that “there was a general feeling from the very beginning that a fourth dimension was missing from this definition.”
Khayat goes on to quote several former members of the WHO from a discussion of the definition at a World Health Assembly. Dr. Abdul Rahman Al Awadi stated:
“Material progress in the present world has reached levels unprecedented in past history or civilization. Yet we find that what prevails in this world are anxiety and apprehension, so much so that one could say that the distinguishing feature of this age is a sense of loss and uncertainty. We have stripped man, over the last decades, of his spiritual values, and materialism is now in full control of all aspects of our life to the extent that man feels lost and restless, desperately seeking tranquility and peace of mind. I am quite certain that regardless of what we do to provide health care for the body and the mind, man shall remain lost and restless until we provide for the spiritual aspect of life.”
And Dr. Ali Youssef Al-Saif:
“All people suffer from worry and anxiety caused by the times in which we live. Materialism, dominated daily life to such an extent that spiritual values no longer count, and people are afraid of the future. The malaise could be ascribed to a large extent to a lack of respect for spiritual values and the denial of the spiritual dimension, which could help people to live with confidence in the future. Whatever technological progress may be made, there can be no true progress so long as a person’s body alone is treated; in short, both the body and the soul must be treated.”
In 1983, 22 WHO member countries proposed a draft resolution to the preamble to include a reference to spiritual health, such that it would redefine health as a state of “physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Although WHO did not amend the preamble to its constitution, resolution WHA31.13 recognized that “the spiritual dimension plays a great role in motivating people’s achievements in all aspects of life.”
I find it interesting that one of the individuals quoted above highlighted the importance of caring for the body and mind, while the other identified the body and soul, but neither highlighted the importance of body, mind and soul/spirit.
There are countless models that incorporate the different dimensions of well-being and I particularly like the Pathways to Wellness model adopted by the Government of Yukon.
However, regardless of the model, health is multi-faceted and there are benefits to adopting a holistic approach/view given that each aspect is connected.
I recognize that it’s important to consider the whole person but for me, spirituality is the fundamental dimension and foundation of my overall health and well-being. This is a direct result of both my upbringing and life experiences.
I was born and received into the Catholic faith when I was baptized and although my family attended church every Sunday like many other families, we did not always live out God’s teachings at home. In fact, I rebelled during my teenage years and completely abandoned my faith.
It wasn’t until my son was born with significant health issues that I returned to the church as a prodigal daughter. In Toddcast Season 1 Episode 2, I recount a time when we were in the hospital. Completely at the end of my wits and feeling alone and helpless, I prayed over my son, pleading for God to hear my prayer. Have you experienced a similar situation? Where you’ve exhausted every available resource and tried every coping strategy but nothing works – so you look to a higher power for the strength to go on? I know with certainty that God lifted me out of darkness and despair (I physically felt a weight lifted from me) and my life was changed – for the better.
At mass every Sunday, through His forgiveness and grace, I feel completely at peace and rejuvenated for the week ahead. At the end of the celebration, our deacon gives the following blessing/call to action:
“Let us go in faith to love and serve the Lord with our lives”
To answer this call, I ask to be His hands and feet in this world and to give me the strength to carry out His will for me. Like everyone, I continue to face challenges in this life on earth.
But the difference is that I do not walk alone.
About Darlene Marion
In 2015, I decided to disclose that I live with mental illness by sharing my story publicly through a Toddcast (http://www.toddlyons.ca/2015/09/toddcast-season-1-episode-2-mental.html). Although it wasn't easy, it was necessary. It allowed me to start living my life without shame or guilt or fear. By sharing my story, I want to help eliminate stigma and spread the message of hope and recovery.