Intended for healthcare professionals


Emotional wellbeing and its relation to health

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 12 December 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1608

Physical disease may well result from emotional distress

  1. Sarah Stewart-Brown, Director
  1. Health Services Research Unit, Department of Public Health, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 7LF

    In 1947 the World Health Organisation defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing.”1 Until now the NHS has given precedence to promoting physical wellbeing, but the green paper Our Healthier Nationsignals that this may need to change.2 It emphasises the importance of emotional wellbeing for health: indeed, health is defined as “being confident and positive and able to cope with the ups and downs of life.” These statements are supported by an increasing body of epidemiological, social science, and experimental research that is beginning to suggest that initiatives which aim to promote physical wellbeing to the exclusion of mental and social wellbeing may be doomed to failure.

    The concept of mental and social wellbeing is less well defined than that of physical wellbeing. Debate still continues about the meaning of the term mental health. A recent study in Scotland showed that lay people were more comfortable with the …

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