As a women’s health therapist and of course, as a woman, I have always been interested in women’s health, specifically what contributes to good overall health. When we think of women’s health, we tend to focus on a woman’s physical health, such as the biological structures (think: female anatomy and reproduction); the hormonal conditions, specific to women (menstruation and menopause), and life events (pregnancy and childbirth). However, a woman’s health is not exclusive to her biological and hormonal symptoms, it also includes social determinants that contribute to good physical and mental health.
The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as the conditions by which people are born, grow, work and live, as well as larger systemic forces, such as economic and social policies, cultural agendas, and social norms that shape daily life. For women, we may already be at a disadvantage when considering some of the inequalities in these social determinants of health. Unfortunately, our current health care system does not always pay adequate attention to the social determinants of women’s health, which can result in gaps in women’s access to care, prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
When I am working with clients, I want to know and understand the person in front of me as a whole. How do you define “good” health? What are you dealing with in this moment that is impacting your physical and mental health? What does your current support system look like? What needs to be changed first to ensure that you can access health care and maintain a healthy lifestyle?
A common misconception is that good health is largely determined by individual behaviors. Yes, if we give into every fast food craving or avoid the gynecologist like we avoid the dentist, we will not live a health lifestyle. However, there is also a social view of health that plays an equally important role in women’s health outcomes and is often missing from the traditional health care models.
So what can we do to reduce the gaps in women’s health care and increase our overall health? We need to first acknowledge that gender can be a social determinant impacting health outcomes and care. Then we need to be advocates for our daughters, our sisters, our friends and ourselves by bringing these conversations into our doctor’s offices to ensure that it is not just our physical health and our bodies that we are treating, but that we are receiving comprehensive health care. It starts with you.