Updated: May 24
It would be a shame to ignore what we can learn from the coronavirus about the relationship between individual and social health. Perhaps the first lesson is that the very idea of “social health” is not in our vocabulary. We use the notion of “social security” without any problem, so it would seem that we could have a notion of “social insecurity,” and wouldn’t the coronavirus be a prime example of such insecurity?
The coronavirus is certainly a public health problem. No doubt about that. Without a social analysis of the epidemic, however, we ignore that the problem affects vulnerable social groups more than others. In fact, people do use social categories, such as age and health conditions, to develop a public health response to the epidemic.
This virus could help us learn something Bernie Sanders has been trying to tell us. There are 44 million people who are uninsured and almost as many have inadequate health insurance. It’s a mistake to think of these people only as individuals. They are also members of social worlds that our social/economic system has created. Their vulnerability is not a “private” problem, but a “public problem,” because it is a “social condition.”
You do not have to be a “social democrat” to recognize the reality of “social systems” and to think and talk about “social health.” You do have to recognize that we are not all in the same boat. Some of us are doing quite well. Others are extremely vulnerable. A social perspective makes this quite clear.