Health education is as powerful a tool in treating emotional problems as it is in treating "physical" ones. Health educators are trained to understand how different fields of health overlap and affect one other, and to disseminate their healthcare knowledge to individuals, groups and entire communities. Their job is to improve health literacy so that people can become their own healthcare advocates, and advocates for those close to them. Health education, invaluable in school and university classrooms, is equally as important in wellness programs in government agencies, businesses and organizations, and in outreach programs in rural, suburban and inner city communities. Health education's goal is to promote, maintain and, when possible, restore health.
Health Education Training
Those who work in health education may have majored in the field, or completed an undergraduate degree in another, usually related, field, such as physical education, nursing or physical therapy. They may have taken advanced courses in health education, obtained masters' or doctoral degrees, and received on-the-job training.
Types of Health Education
Those who specialize in health education often focus on a particular area of healthcare:
- Physical health
- Social health
- Environmental health
- Emotional health
- Intellectual health
- Spiritual health
Healthcare educators also frequently work in the public health arena, which focuses on physical, social and environmental health. Public health education comprises any health issues that concern large numbers of people.
Concerns Addressed by Health Education
Health education provides detailed information about the importance of nutrition, exercise and healthy habits in developing and maintaining good health. Health educators teach individuals and communities about a variety of health-related topics, including:
- Personal hygiene
- Use of tobacco or alcohol
- Substance abuse
- Safe sexual practices
- Family planning
- Safe prenatal and obstetrical care
- Communicable diseases
- Signs of physical or sexual abuse
- Signs of self-injurious behavior
Health Education to Combat Stress
Health educators are trained to understand the strong connection between physical health, and mental and emotional well-being. In educating individuals and groups about healthy lifestyles, health educators must evaluate and demonstrate the ways in which stress has a negative impact on health. Stress can produce a tremendous variety of physical, mental and emotional symptoms, as well as exacerbate existing ones. Symptoms may include headaches, digestive disturbances, heart palpitations, visual difficulties, chronic pain or fatigue, anxiety, sleep disturbances and phobias. Extensive research has demonstrated that the human body reacts to stress by producing cortisol, which in turn alters metabolic, cardiovascular, neurological and immunological responses, resulting in the various symptoms related to stress.
Risk Factors for Stress
Health education frequently focuses on identifying at-risk populations. Just as there are risk factors for substance abuse or physical violence, there are specific risk factors for stress. Of course, many of these factors are common to all three. Generally speaking, poverty and lack of education put people at risk for stress, as well as for other physical and mental health problems. Stress can be caused by many factors, including those below.
- Changing jobs
- Changing marital status
- Additions or losses of family members
- Chronic illness or pain
- Work and family difficulties
It is important to note that stress can be caused by positive, as well as negative, factors.
Ways to Alleviate Stress
Health education, in addition to promoting healthy sanitary, nutritional, sexual and medical practices, is concerned with reducing stress both in individuals and the community as a whole. Health educators are trained to encourage activities known to be beneficial to the mind and body:
- Physical exercise
- Social connection
- Proper sleep habits
- Participation in creative outlets
- Counseling or psychotherapy
Health educators know that people have different reactions to stress, so are familiar with different techniques and strategies for coping with it.