Humans ought to be practically superhuman by now. We live in the most enlightened of all ages. We now have the knowledge and means by which to make ourselves as healthy as is conceivable given the parameters of our mortal status. And yet, in a lot of ways, we are as far away from being a healthy population as we ever have been in history. Despite our cultural progress, the affluence of modern Westernized society, despite our understanding the human body, we remain desperately unhealthy. Our physical suffering can be seen in the soaring utilization and cost of health care and health insurance in this country. The toll that medically-related absences take on corporations is high, we are funding social security for disabled people at a rate never seen before, even chronic illnesses in children are on the rise. This seems so counterintuitive, almost oxymoronic, when you look at how much we have advanced medical treatments and preventative courses.
What is causing this insult to all our health endeavors? In a nutshell, it’s the mind. The mind drives the body’s behaviors, it dictates the choices that influence health, and in so many cases these choices are what make us sick. I’m no medical doctor (I just play one on TV), but it seems to me that the vast majority of our physical struggles have psychological origins. We make choices and engage in behaviors that are antithetical to our health, then we seek out treatment for the inevitable result of our poor health choices. The most costly health conditions include heart ailments, cancer, diabetes, and osteoarthritis…all illnesses that have strong correlates to lifestyle. Let’s face it, we eat too much, we smoke, we do drugs, we don’t exercise, we like to eat sugar and salt despite the fact that it is bad for us, we live saturated in stress, we are obese. If there were an illness associated with watching too much porn, we would probably spend billions on that as well.
At the root of the health crisis is a psychological crisis. The $64,000 question is, “how do you get people to do what they know is right with regard to their health?” If you answered that, the majority of our health problems would dissipate, and with it the astronomical cost of health care. But our understanding of the human mind remains rather a mystery, and therefore the resolution of this downward health cycle remains elusive. Despite our wisdom about the body, our ignorance of the mind is still staring us in the face, sabotaging many of our efforts to create a healthier society. There is no system of mind like there is for the body. I believe we could create one, and this system could guide us out of the ‘dark ages’ the field of psychology seems to be stuck in. If we want to prevent illness (both physical and mental) we must develop a system of mind, a better way of understanding why people do what they do, a better way of guiding that course. If we could solve the problem of getting people to actually take care of themselves the way they need to, a huge chunk of the health care crisis and everything that comes along with it would be a thing of the past.
“Prevention” to date involves education, sometimes with a sprinkling of big brother-esque laws and limitations on the unhealthy things we have access to. We tax the hell out of cigarettes, we have drinking and drug laws, some places are even trying to ban big pops and trans fats. We took the vending machines out of schools and set stricter requirements for school lunch nutrition. We urge people to exercise. Although these are certainly positive steps, I see that we must do more. We must take a macro-level approach to psychology to see why our society particularly now is struggling so much with making good choices, when the opposite should be the case. Only when the mind and the body are acting in harmony can we truly achieve good human health, and for now, the mind is fighting us every inch.