The concept of social health is less intuitively familiar than that of physical or mental health, and yet, along with physical and mental health, it forms one of the three pillars of most definitions of health. This is partly because social health can refer both to a characteristic of a society, and of individuals. "A society is healthy when there is equal opportunity for all and access by all to the goods and services essential to full functioning as a citizen" (Russell 1973, p. 75). Indicators of the health of a society might include the existence of the rule of law, equality in the distribution of wealth, public accessibility of the decision-making process, and the level of social capital.
The social health of individuals refers to "that dimension of an individual's well-being that concerns how he gets along with other people, how other people react to him, and how he interacts with social institutions and societal mores" (Russell 1973, p. 75). This definition is broad—it incorporates elements of personality and social skills, reflects social norms, and bears a close relationship to concepts such as "well-being," "adjustment," and "social functioning."
Formal consideration of social health was stimulated in 1947 by its inclusion in the World Health Organization's definition of health, and by the resulting emphasis on treating patients as social beings who live in a complex social context. Social health has also become relevant with the increasing evidence that those who are well integrated into their communities tend to live longer and recover faster from disease. Conversely, social isolation has been shown to be a risk factor for illness. Hence, social health may be defined in terms of social adjustment and social support—or the ability to perform normal roles in society.
Definitions of social health in terms of adjustment derive from sociology and psychiatry. Poor social adjustment forms a common indicator of neurotic illness, and adjustment may be used to record the outcome of care, especially for psychotherapy. Adjustment may be rated subjectively, or it may be judged in terms of a person's fulfillment of social roles—how adequately a person is functioning compared to normal social expectations. Role performance can also indicate the impact of disability, bringing the concept of social health close to that of handicap, which refers to the social disadvantage resulting from impairments or disabilities (World Health Organization, 1980). As norms vary greatly between cultures, however, a challenge lies in selecting an appropriate standard against which to evaluate roles.
Mutual social support is also commonly viewed as an aspect of social health. Support attenuates the effects of stress and reduces the incidence of disease. Social support also contributes to positive adjustment in children and adults, and encourages personal growth. The concept of support underlines the theme of social health as an attribute of a society: a sense of community—or the currently fashionable concept of social capital, which refers to the extent to which there is a feeling of mutual trust and reciprocity in a community—is an important indicator of social health.
Hawe, P., and Shiell, A. (2000). "Social Capital and Health Promotion: A Review." Social Science and Medicine 51:871–885.
Russell, R. D. (1973). "Social Health: An Attempt to Clarify This Dimension of Well-Being." International Journal of Health Education 16:74–82.
World Health Organization (1980). International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities, and Handicaps. Geneva: Author.
"Social Health." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/social-health
"Social Health." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Retrieved December 12, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/social-health
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.