A Novel Perspective on Medicine: Holistic Health for All
January 07, 2023
Editorial By Karl Gerard R. Crisostomo, UPCM Class 2023, Chief Editor
The practice of medicine has long existed since before written history. In 1865, Paul Broca, known for being the eponymous namesake of the area in the brain we associate with speech production (Broca’s area), received a curious specimen from one Ephraim George Squier, a renowned American archaeologist and ethnologist. This was an ancient skull discovered in Peru, with its most defining feature being a square cut around half an inch in size. What baffled experts such as Broca was not the fact that such a large cut existed in the first place, but rather, that there was evidence of healing along the periphery of the hole in question, indicating that the person who received such a primitive operation survived in the first place. Even with the most primitive means, our Peruvian forebearers realized that there was a pressing concern that needed such a drastic operation, before the advent of antiseptic techniques, anesthesia, and techniques developed by modern surgery. Indeed, the most recent advancements in medicine were brought about by an immediate pressing concern that served as impetus for innovations that would define their respective fields in the coming decades.
Today, new strides have been made towards further innovations in health. In the past century, we have made important discoveries such as antibiotics, eradicated conditions like smallpox, and facilitated an unprecedented vaccine rollout in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
These advancements helped save billions of lives over the course of our existence in the world. However, we should not rest on our laurels just yet. In 1948, the World Health Organization famously defined the concept of “health”, a notion which has remained persistent and relevant even to this day:
The definition specifically mentions not only the physical aspect of health, but also aspects which are not as tangible. Why were these highlighted all those years ago? It follows that ensuring the physical well being of an individual may lead to both a positive mental and social well being as well, but this statement is much more nuanced than that. Health exists not merely in the vacuum of the physical and the tangible, it exists as a function of the unseen, yet equally important aspect of our daily lives: our psychosocial well being.
While the world was mostly focused on finding ways to deal with the virus that attacked its victims systemically, manifesting symptoms and signs that would prompt admission, even intubation in the worst of cases, another silent, yet equally potent force also took hold on the general populace. In 2022, the World Health Organization, released a report on early evidence of the pandemic’s impact on Mental Health. According to data collected, there was a 27.6% increase in cases of major depressive disorder (MDD) and a 25.6% increase in cases of anxiety disorders (AD) worldwide since the onset of COVID-19. Alarming numbers, but not one to be surprised about. In the span of a month or so that year, we were thrust into a situation the likes of which the world had not experienced, a pandemic rivaling that of the 1918 Pandemic in scale and size. The pandemic affected all of us, one way or another. For some, their lungs ravaged by the respiratory ailment with a wide array of systemic symptoms. For others, having their lives upended with the snap of a finger, many experienced a deluge of psychological symptoms of varying severity. Languishing became a common experience throughout the course of the pandemic, a so-called middle child between depression and flourishing, a state wherein one felt empty, aimless, as well as joyless, probably due to the loss of many opportunities for physical, mental, and social stimulation due to isolation. Social support systems, once taken for granted, were now relegated to words on a screen, or pixels lit up on a screen to approximate the image of a human being. The concept of mental health, a science so comparatively young to that of medicine, was foreign to many until they started experiencing it themselves, realizing that their symptoms were not from the virus but rather, from the situation brought about by its spread to the world as we knew it. Many lives were snuffed not by the suffocating grasp of COVID, but by the silent whispers of depression, loneliness, bereavement, even hopelessness.
As the world heals from the pandemic, it is our responsibility, not only as physicians, but as human beings, to do our part in ensuring the good health of those around us. We are given the opportunity to make an active and palpable difference in the good health of those around us without having to resort to life threatening procedures like the aforementioned trepanation example. As physicians we have long exuded a particular role in our society, not only as authority figures, but as figures of hope, who can give a person in their last hours a chance at experiencing another sunrise.
Inasmuch as we should care for the mental health of our patients, friends, and colleagues, we must also focus on our own health. With a profession known for constantly exposing its workers to less than ideal circumstances, as well as stressful situations that would buckle even its most stalwart figures, being mindful of one’s experiences and being open to finding ways to care about oneself is just as important. As a doctor, it is our duty first and foremost to save lives, and oftentimes, we forget to include ourselves in these efforts.
We have every opportunity from here on out to advance better health in our own unique ways. When history looks upon our efforts with bridging the post pandemic era towards a better status quo, I hope we will not merely be remembered only for fighting the pandemic through medical means, but beyond this, through our individual efforts to make the postpandemic world a better place.
Randall, T., Sam, C., Tartar, A., Murray, P., Cannon, C., Armstrong, D., Qiu, Y., Pollak, A., Wallbank, D., Carroll, J., Dube, E., Lee, J., Shah, J., Lin, L., & Lee, S. (2020, December 4). More than 12.7 billion shots given: Covid-19 vaccine tracker. Bloomberg.com. Retrieved December 11, 2022, from https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/
World Health Organization. (1948). Constitution of the World Health Organization. World Health Organization. Retrieved December 11, 2022, from https://www.who.int/about/governance/constitution
World Health Organization. (2022). Mental health and COVID-19: early evidence of the pandemic’s impact: scientific brief, 2 March 2022. World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/352189. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO