3.1.3 Determinants of Health

Perhaps the most obvious determinant of physical health is whether you are ill or not. Illness is a sickness or disease, or to a period of sickness and disease. A cold or a virus is an example of an illness. When a person is ill, their health suffers, and when they recover, their health improves.

However, there are some less visible and obvious forms of health to consider as well, including mental health, social health, and spiritual health.

Mental Health

As defined by the World Health Organization, “mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” (qtd in Wikipedia , n.d.). According to WHO, mental health includes “subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, intergenerational dependence, and self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential, among others” (qtd in Wikipedia , n.d.). Mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life and to create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience. Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories all affect how one defines “mental health” (Wikipedia , n.d.)

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness that mental health is very significant to a person’s overall wellbeing. Gradually, outdated stigmas against mental illness are being dismantled, and people are feeling free to talk about their mental health. Health care professionals are becoming more mindful of how clients’ mental status can impact their holistic health.

Did You Know? 

Canadians are fortunate to have a wide range of resources for mental illness and mental health. Please refer to the Canadian Mental Health Association website to learn more.

Social Health

Social health can be defined as our ability to form meaningful relationships with others. It also relates to how comfortably we can interact with others and adapt in social situations. The quality and quantity of our interpersonal relationships—including friendships, intimate relationships, family, and professional (work) relationships—affect our mental and physical wellbeing. Furthermore, studies show that people with poor social interactions are more likely to die younger than those with high involvement rates (George, n.d.).

Spiritual Health

Although many people associate spirituality with religion, it can be whatever way you find meaning, hope, comfort, and inner peace in your life. Indeed, many people do express their spirituality through religion. However, others find it through music, art, nature, or even their values and principles. For many people, there is a significant link between spirituality and health.

To learn more about spiritual health, read “Spirituality and Health” from familydoctor.org.

Social Determinants of Health

According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the social determinants of health are “conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of life-risks and outcomes” (CDC , 2021).

The following table presents the six major types of social determinants of health, and the outcomes that can result:

Social Determinant Factors Outcomes
Economic Stability
  • Employment
  • Income
  • Expenses
  • Debt
  • Medical bills
  • Support
All of the following outcomes are impacted by the interplay between all of the social determinants of health:

    • Mortality
    • Morbidity
    • Life Expectancy
    • Health Care Expenditures
    • Health Status
    • Functional Limitations
Physical Environment
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Safety
  • Parks
  • Playgrounds
  • Walkability
  • Literacy
  • Language
  • Early childhood education
  • Vocational training
  • Higher education
  • Hunger
  • Access to healthy options
Social Environment
  • Social integration
  • Support systems
  • Community engagement
  • Discrimination
Health Care
  • Health coverage
  • Provider availability
  • Provider linguistic and cultural competency
  • Quality of care
Table: The factors of each social determinant are listed, and all share a common set of outcomes (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2015).

Did You Know? 

Gender shapes health behaviours, exposures and vulnerabilities, and influences health systems responses. It also intersects with other social determinants of health such as socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and ability. According to the University College London Centre for Gender and Global Health (2020), while both men and women experience certain aspects of health inequality, sustained and pervasive structural gender inequalities frequently and severely impact the health of women and gender non-binary people. Patriarchal gender norms, which determine idealized forms of masculinity, also have a substantial impact on men’s health.


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