Understanding behavioral factors Health psychologists seek to identify the behaviors and experiences that promote health, lead to illness, influence the effectiveness of health care, and recommend improvements to health policy in their life. There are many examples of this. Smoking, diet, and lack of regular exercise all contribute to the formation of disease. There are some minor associations between illness and individual characteristics such as personality. For example, it is claimed that individuals with thrill seeking personalities are more likely to drive fast making them more likely to injure themselves in car accidents. And also that people distrustful of physicians will not get regular checkups Factors that lead to the behaviors that cause illness are of interest because they help psychologists to predict who is most susceptible to illness and why.
There are many contributing factors that help determine our behaviors, and all of the dimensions of the Biopsychosocial model can be applied to understand these interconnections. Biologically, physical addiction plays an important role in smoking cessation. As does the psychological dependency on tobacco brought about largely by seductive advertising and other forms of tobacco promotion. Psychologically, people with high stress jobs are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Socially, people with low incomes have less access to health resources and screening processes. They also are exposed to greater environmental toxigens, lower levels of education, poorer housing, less healthy foods, higher smoking prevalence, and many other toxic socially determined living conditions. Health psychologists also aim to change health behaviors for the dual purpose of helping people stay healthy and helping patients adhere to disease treatment regimens. Cognitive behavioral therapy and behavior modification are techniques often used for this purpose.
Psychologists work towards promoting health through behavioral change, as mentioned above, but they prevent illness in other ways as well. Practitioners emphasize education as a large part of illness prevention, as many people do not recognize the risk to illness present in their lives. Or they are unable to implement the knowledge that they have owing to the pressures of their everyday existence. A common example of this is anti-smoking campaigns. Those least able to afford tobacco products consume them the most. It is a method for controlling emotional states, the daily experiences of stress that characterize the lives of deprived and vulnerable people. Health psychologists also aim at educating health professionals like physicians and nurses in communicating with patients. They communicate in a way that highlights the psychosocial barriers to understanding and implementing effective strategies for reducing risk factors and making behavior changes that will help them to develop appropriate means for communicating information relevant to diagnosis, treatment and prognosis.
Exploring the effects of disease
There is much to know about how disease affects our mental well being. When illness or accidents befall a person, their entire life is affected. A psychologically healthy individual who gets severely injured, say, now has many different practical issues to contend with that will in turn affect their psychological well being. Who will take care of them while they recover? If they can’t work, how will they pay for bills or care for dependents? If this person sees themselves as being self-reliant, how do they handle this new identity? What if they cannot pursue their usual hobbies and interests? All of these possibilities can affect a person’s relationships, self-esteem, stress level, happiness and belief system. Many of these issues are economic and social in nature rather than psychological but they have a direct impact on psychological well being. This important field of study considers how those with terminal illnesses can lead a better life. When there is little hope of recovery, health psychologists can improve the quality of life of the patient by helping them to recover their mental well-being.
Critical analysis of Health Policy
Health psychologists are exploring how health policy can impact on inequities, inequalities and social injustice. This expands the scope of health psychology beyond the level of individual health to an examination of the social and economic determinants of health experience both within and between regions and nations.