Health and wellness are usually considered to be one and the same. If someone is sick, we say he or she is not doing “well.” And we take kids to their well-child visits to keep them “healthy.” The words health and wellness often are used interchangeably to mean there is an absence of illness or disease.
I had a similar view of health and wellness until I attended the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing’s annual conference in April, where I heard Sharon Thompson, RN, present her WellCare model of nursing. After hearing her speak, my mind was opened to a new way of thinking about these two states of being.
In Thompson’s model, health and wellness are two very different things, and they don’t necessarily go hand in hand. One can be healthy but not well, and vice versa.
For example, we’ve all met what I call “chronically crabby” people. They always have something to complain about and have a pessimistic view about life. Yet these people don’t always have physical illnesses. Their blood pressure is normal, they don’t have diabetes, and they are able to run marathons. They can be in perfect health; however, if we look at them using the WellCare model, they won’t qualify as well because they are not enjoying life.
Wellness, as Thompson explained, is related to quality of life and the support systems a person has in place.
Take a patient battling cancer. She might be too tired to drive herself to her child’s soccer games, so a friend offers to drive her there. She might not be considered healthy because of the cancer, but her level of wellness could actually be quite high because she has the support of her friends and with their help can continue to do what she enjoys.
Thompson explained that health is often passive. It’s something that happens to you. People can eat right and exercise, but sometimes they still develop heart disease. But wellness is much more active. It’s something you can work toward by developing those support systems and doing things you enjoy.
I found Thompson’s explanation of wellness inspiring. To me, it seemed like something that could help patients cope when they were experiencing health problems. If nurses can discover what brings their patients joy and satisfaction in life, they can help them face their situations with hope. They might have health issues, but they can find success being well while they manage their health. And, hopefully, with the help of nurses, they will achieve both health AND wellness.