Humans’ Fear of Disease

Humans fear disease for two reasons: One is the threat of physical progression of the disease until the point of incapacity.

The other, more subtle, is the fear that they will be rejected by society because of their illness.  The latter might not be as clear to those who live in the present western culture.  That is for two reasons, the first is that there is an enhanced quality of compassion, modified by much in literature but also modified by the imposition of national health services and free treatment imposed by government.

However for primitive man, and now woven into the “societal personality”, is the threat that illness in the individual might endanger the group or the mobile pack.

This is probably the cause of the extreme sensitivity about privacy in relation to illness and the demand for confidentiality. Medical persons are constantly being sued for “breach of privacy” often when the healthcare worker is trying to assist.

In a bizzar twist the National Health Service is fumbling with recording the illness details of the entire population. In reality that database will make no difference to more beneficial emergency treatment, but will cost each of us greatly.

It is these atavistic concepts of wellbeing or its lack, which seem to be expressing it in modern attitudes to illness and health-care

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that a person, who believes he is ill, will grasp a socially acceptable framework for being ill.  If an illness is given a title – such as repetitive strain injury and many, many more and accepted by a group of persons who are supposed to understand this – such as healthcare professionals. The label will be adopted, adapted and accepted with relief.  It can become the crutch with which that individual can limp, notionally ”approved” by society, to continue their existence within society.  It provides a necessary reassuring comfort that there are many others in a similar predicament. This can only be if the illness has a “name”.  Thereafter a subset of “like sufferers” is formed and provides a strength of numbers – which is characteristic of all subsets within greater society.

Andrew Malleson in his book “Whiplash and Other Convenient Illnesses” provides multiple examples.  However, he does not seem to fully understand the psychodynamics and – at times – he is scathingly dismissive or adds the label of “antisocial” either directly or by implication.  It seems, perhaps without his even realizing it, that he, as an “denialist”, has also climbed on the bandwagon of generating an income from the industry which he seems to criticize, so illustrating further the complex currents and counter currents of human behaviour.


About jp

Orthopaedic Surgeon
This entry was posted in Human Behaviour, Humans as social animals and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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