1. Starting your Health Education Work: Basic Principles

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1.3  Psychological health


Think about people in the community who are showing behaviour that may indicate they are going through a period of mental distress in their lives. Or think about Serena again. Do you think that everyone in distress shows the same sorts of symptoms?


Sometimes it can be really hard from the outside to tell if the person is struggling with mental health issues, but at other times they show symptoms that suggest a lack of self-awareness or personal identity, or an inability of rational and logical decision-making.

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At other times it might be apparent that they are not looking after themselves and are without a proper purpose in their life. They may be chewing khat, drinking alcohol and have a non-logical response to any request. You may also notice that they have an inability to maintain their personal autonomy and are unable to maintain good relationships with people around them.

So how do we recognise a mentally healthy adult?

You will learn more about mental health and ill health in the Module on Non-Communicable Diseases, Emergency Care and Mental Health.

The mentally healthy adult shows behaviour that demonstrates awareness of self, who has purpose to their life, a sense of self understanding, self value and a willingness to perceive reality and cope with its difficulties.

The mentally healthy adult is active, hard working and productive, persists with tasks until they are completed, logically thinks about things affecting their own health, responds flexibly in the face of stress, receives pleasure from a variety of sources, and accepts their own limitations realistically. The healthy adult has a capacity to live with other people and understand other people’s needs. It is sometimes considered that the mentally healthy person shows growth and maturity in three areas: cognitive, emotional and social.

The next part of this study session will help you understand these three components of psychological health.

1.3.1  Cognitive component

The cognitive component of mental health is really to do with thinking and being able to work things out. It includes the ability of an individual to learn, to have awareness (consciousness) and to perceive reality. At a higher level it also involves having a memory and being able to reason rationally and solve problems, as well as being able to work creativity and have a sense of imagination.

1.3.2  Emotional component

When you are implementing a health extension programme you may encounter various feelings or emotions in households in your community such as happiness, anger or sadness. People might cry or laugh. The emotional component of health is the ability and skill of expressing emotions in an ‘appropriate’ way. Appropriate means that the type of response should be able to match the problem.

Think about how you might react to such feelings if you came across them while you are working as a Health Extension Practitioner. What do you think of such feelings?


Suppose a secondary school student in your area, while sitting for an exam, started to cry uncontrollably? This could be due to their inability to control themselves in the stressful situation. Or could this suggest that they have a deeper emotional health problem?


Showing emotions like this is not something that you can immediately say, ‘oh this is exam nerves’. Knowing more about someone’s life is important. If you knew this student usually sailed through exams and was a calm, unflappable person, then you might begin to think this was something needing investigation. Or perhaps family circumstances are relevant here — maybe a beloved grandmother has just died.

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In the previous section you have learned something about the physical and mental components of health. Social health is also an important component of overall health and in the next section you will consider the definition and some examples of social health.

1.3.3  Social component

Figure 1.3  A social role can be developed while taking part in communal activities such as harvesting or other activities where teamwork is important. (Photo: Ali Wyllie)

The social component of health is considered to be the ability to make and maintain ‘acceptable’ and ‘proper’ interactions and communicate with other people within the social environment. This component also includes being able to maintain satisfying interpersonal relationships and being able to fulfill a social role. Having a social role is the ability that people have to maintain their own identity while sharing, cooperating, communicating and enjoying the company of others (Figure 1.3). This is really important when participating in friendships and taking a full part in family and community life.


Which of the following examples could be considered to contribute to social health? Explain your answers.

  1. Mourning when a close family member dies

  2. Going to a football match or involvement in a community meeting

  3. Celebrating traditional festivals within your community

  4. Shopping in the market

  5. Creating and maintaining friendship.


In reality all these events could have a social component and help towards building people’s social view of health. They all involve interacting with others and gaining support, friendship and in many instances joy from being with other people.

End of answer

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