Illness is a hard fact of life. Everyone is bound to face some sort of illness during their lifetime and everyone must naturally cope with the sickness amongst their family and friends. Both quantity and quality of the social relationships affect the health behavior including the mental health and physical health. As such, sociology and psychology are known to share numerous common interests and field of study in the public health sector. The sociologists have played a pivotal role in establishing an association between the social relationships and the outcomes of health. They have also identified explanations for this association illustrated with examples and pieces of evidence and have also studied the social variation of gender and race at the population level.
On the other hand, human behavior is the utmost concern for the psychologists. Psychology is mainly concerned with the reasons that make people behave as they do. Psychologists deeply study human characteristics like emotion, learning, intelligence, heredity, personality development and also other factors like environment, differences that exist between individuals, nature and how individuals influence certain groups and affect human health behavior.
Sociology plays a vital role in understanding various issues related to the health. Sociologists analyze how the social forces may promote health and sickness and also they study the reasons behind the higher suffering of some social groups over the others. To illustrate this, some researchers had observed how the working conditions of various factories in the US influence the health of poorer groups of Americans as compared to the wealthier Americans. It was seen that the poor class suffered more often from certain types of cancer than the wealthier Americans. Sociologists can also study the influence of historical changes in social life on the illness patterns. For example, to understand the reason behind the increase in the rate of breast cancer in women, the researchers have studied the role of environmental pollution increased consumption of meat in America and also the possibility of the changing social roles of women in the society.
Sociologists may also study the patterns of patients who live with illnesses on a daily basis. In such cases, they explore and understand the effect of illness on the individual’s’ sense of identity, their relationship with the relatives and friends or also to understand their ideas on different factors that may cause an illness or disease. They also study the experiences of various physicians and health care providers. This type of a study may include the analysis of how the status and power of physicians has changed over a period of time. Other examples include the study of the effect of power on the interactions between doctors and nurses.
Sociologists have the potential to analyze the whole healthcare system. They have examined the development of health care systems along with the various strengths and weaknesses of different systems across the globe. Apart from identifying the loopholes in various systems, they have also analyzed how these systems could be improved. For example, sociologists analyze the role of health insurance companies and also broader topics like the reason behind European countries doing better at providing health care as compared to the United States and whether European policies for health care can be adopted in the United States.
An inverse relationship exists between the socioeconomic status and the components of an unhealthy lifestyle like physical inactivity, tobacco use, and poor nutrition. Socioeconomic status affects the motivation for healthy behavior. The lower socio-economic status groups have the fewer number of reasons to forgo short term unhealthy pleasures for a long term gain in health. All socio-economic status groups may have a similar health behavior desire but the low socio-economic status groups have a hard time in realizing their goals.
Health psychology concerns with the lifestyle and individual behavior which reflects on the person’s physical being. The main aim of the psychologists is health enhancement, treatment of a disease and its prevention, identification of risk factors associated with health, betterment of healthcare systems and analyzing the public opinion with respect to health. Psychologists apply their principles in various health areas like managing stress, controlling cholesterol, stopping smoking as well as encourage healthy practices like exercise and regular health checkups. The health psychology interacts with both sociology and biology to achieve disease and health-related outcomes.
The work of health psychologist includes conducting research, teaching as well as providing services to various individual, private or public companies. They may provide substitutes or alternatives to pharmacological therapy. For example, the analgesic medication for a headache may be substituted by biofeedback. They may also conduct behavioral interventions to treat physical illnesses like chronic pain.
There are different research methods used by psychologists to understand health behaviors. Correlational studies are used to identify and predict the various factors which are related to a specific disease. Another method used is the cross-sectional studies which help to compare people of different age groups. Longitudinal studies give information on the stability of the status of health or any other characteristics that need to be determined during the span of a certain period of time. Longitudinal studies are expensive and time-consuming as compared to the cross-sectional studies but they yield more useful results. The major disadvantage of correlational studies, longitudinal studies, and cross-sectional design is that none of them can be used to determine causality.
Health psychology is a field which uses psychological knowledge in order to maintain health and prevent any sort of illnesses. Social psychology or sociology also contributed significantly since lifestyles are also known to modify health, attitudes, and beliefs. Recently, the interest of the sociologist and psychologist have increased in the study of stress due to numerous stressful life events taking place these days ( for example, bereavement and divorces) which involves the breaking up of social relationships. The impact of stress affects health by influencing the brain response towards physiological processes where individuals may become dependent health impairing activities like alcohol/drug abuse and smoking.
Over the years, sociology and psychology have been well established as being part of the multidisciplinary health system. They are increasingly acquiring new roles and partnerships with other fields like social policy and anthropology in order to do a more intense study of the public health behavior and their related issues.