The Four Pillars of Health


Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. This positive conception of health was enshrined in the World Health Organization’s founding constitution.

This approach has three qualities: wholeness, pragmatism and individualism. For example, a person who lives at sea level and works shoveling snow may suffer from shortness of breath if they move to higher elevations.


Physical health is one dimension of overall well-being and refers to the normal functioning of your body. It includes getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night, eating a balanced diet and staying active. It also involves preventing illness, injury and managing chronic health conditions. Practicing good hygiene, seeking medical care when needed and getting plenty of rest are important elements of maintaining physical health. Think of your health as a three-legged stool. The seat represents you and the legs represent your physical, emotional and mental health. If one leg is missing, your stool won’t be standing strong! This is why it’s important to practice healthy habits in all areas.


Mental health includes emotional well-being, as well as a person’s ability to think clearly and behave normally. It also includes the ability to cope with challenges, work productively and make contributions to family, friends and society.

People have mood concerns from time to time and may benefit from professional care if symptoms persist, disrupt their daily lives or interfere with normal functioning. A diagnosis of a condition such as depression or anxiety is made by a mental health professional, using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

People can get better with treatment, whether it’s counselling, medicine or both. But a lack of investment in services means there’s a gap in the care available for people with mental health conditions. This gap is worse for those who are poorer, have specific needs or whose needs are overlooked — like those living in remote areas or from certain ethnic groups. They’re more likely to face stigma, social exclusion and even death.


Social health is a third pillar of health, along with mental and physical well-being. It includes your ability to form fulfilling relationships, and your resilience in the face of challenges.

Hundreds of studies establish that support from others promotes psychological and physiological processes that benefit health. For example, supportive relationships reduce allostatic load, which refers to wear and tear on body systems that are overworked in response to stress, and increase the sense of personal control, a key component of emotional regulation.

Evidence also suggests that healthy behaviors spread throughout networks. Policies should capitalize on this natural tendency by incorporating amplification effects into the mechanics of interventions and cost-benefit estimates. This is especially important as the Trump Administration pursues new directions that may limit efforts to address social determinants of health.


Spiritual health focuses on the inner world and connects you on a deeper level with yourself and others. It is not religious in nature and includes a wide range of beliefs, practices and values that resonate with the individual. It also includes a sense of meaning and purpose, personal connections to nature and a belief in something greater than yourself.

Participants reported that indicators of spiritual health include a sense of responsibility for oneself and others, rationality in social behaviors, caring for the rights of all people, gratitude toward God and other divine beings and the power of prayer. They also included a sense of love and forgiveness, humility and honesty.

Studies show that a healthy spirit leads to a healthy body and mind. Ask your mental health provider about including a spiritual component to your treatment.