The health of an individual must of essence encompass all these facets to live a quality life. Generally, the problem of health is one of the main at present times and it should be paid a lot of attention of. Psychologists have made research seeking to understand the dynamics of healthy living and whether it is only limited to the physical well-being or it is a wider scope. It goes without saying that the health of each individual, in particular, depends not only on them but also on the attitude of the surroundings and the action of the governments in corresponding existing situations. To understand the psychological perspectives attached to health we consider a case of an Australian movie namely the Black Balloon that presents a peculiar but rather unfortunate situation of a family that is faced with a reality check experience. Health psychology revolves around the wide area of the cultural, psychological, biological and environmental factors that encompass the prevention and the physical well-being of an individual.
It would be pragmatic to begin with a brief characterization of the main characters of the movie. There are several characters coming into play such as Charlie, Jackie, Simon, Thomas and Maggie. Charlie is the elder brother of Thomas, born of Simon and Maggie, whereas Jackie is seemingly Thomas’s girlfriend. The family is confronted with the hurdle of living with an autistic teenager, Charlie, who seems like a child in a man’s body. In particular, Charlie expresses awkward behavior that irritates his younger brother who becomes the center of attention even in his new school.
Amidst this challenge is the fact that the mother of the family is expectant of a third child sooner than later. Maggie has developed pre-eclampsia even as her time of delivery nears and is consequently advised to take bed rest. According to Brown (2003), it is a condition that usually occurs in a state of pregnant women whereby the incumbent experiences high blood pressure with unusual protein content in the urine. If not kept under check, the condition could lead to eclampsia which endangers both the mother and the unborn child.
It is in light of these settings that we seek to explore the psycho-social factors that surround Maggie’s scenario as an expectant mother, diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and of necessity required to take care of a child with a special need. The report also illustrates how several psychological theories and models would be applied to the case under perspective, and also seeks to relate the different situations to the age and gender of the incumbent.
One of the influences on health behaviour concerns the personality traits of an individual. It all depends on the way one takes and analyzes a situation. There are those people who will interpret an event positively (optimists) and those who interpret events negatively (pessimists). The former are resilient enough to withstand and bounce back in the face of adversity. This mother of two is depicted as a highly spirited character in the mentioned movie. She demonstrates a model family woman who through sheer fortitude manages a seemingly unmanageable role of taking care of her autistic son, amidst her need for rest at her stage in pregnancy. She has faced a medical complication that could be a potential threat to her life. She perfectly depicts a loving mother who asserts to her son Thomas that Charlie was an equal party in the family that may not enjoy the same privileges as him, and thus needed to be accepted. Despite the dilemma that these psychosocial dynamics elicit, she brings out the picture of a responsible woman that does not run away from her obligation as a mother but rather helps wove a shaky and sensitive relationship between her two elder sons.
As it is Maggie is in her middle adulthood stage of development as posited by Erick Erickson (Arlene and Harder 2009). This is seen in her tireless efforts to instil character in her son Thomas. In this stage, individuals significantly get involved in ‘perpetuating and transmitting values through the family (taming the kids) and working to establish a stable environment’ (Arlene and Harder 2009). As further indicated by Erick (Arlene and Harder 2009), strength and optimism as portrayed by Maggie are derived from showing care for others to make society a better place, an idea referred to as generativity.
There is no wonder that there is nothing to be compared with the love of a mother for her children. As a mother, she is required to show impartiality in the way that she treats her two teenagers. While at home, she takes care of the autistic Charlie and constantly affirms her love for him. She shows an indefatigable sense of care and concern in that even after being directed to take a rest she still insists on ensuring Charlie’s comfort. On the other hand, he sternly disciplines Thomas to an extent of even slapping him so as to instill a sense of acceptance and love for his elder brother. Though Thomas sees as if Charlie’s needs have taken priority in the family as a result of his condition, Maggie his mother did organize a memorable birthday for him.
Maggie has further demonstrated love for Charlie in his condition that over time she endeavoured to teach him to sign language since Charlie could not speak. While Jackie asks Thomas how to greet Charlie, he illustrates the technique which augers perfectly well with Charlie. According to Cherry (2011), this is called cognitive psychology and is often applied in mental cases as of Charlie where therapists and counsellors use these techniques to explain and treat a variety of illnesses.
Though Maggie has endeavoured to educate her two children, she seems incapacitated to do much about Charlie’s special needs. The scenario is exacerbated by the fact that Charlie is dumb yet they attend the same school with his brother who has no physical challenge. This may be explained as a socio-economic disparity (Hertzman et al 2009) that determines the resources at one’s disposal. It would be advantageous to secure a special school for Charlie that would attend to his particular needs but due to economic strains it proves to be rather difficult and Charlie has to live in a normal environment that is not sensitive for his special needs.
The movie illustrates a rather strong bond of affection between the couple. As an army officer, Simon is often not at home. Her commitment to him though drives her to attend to the family despite her condition. This bonding has cultivated a sense of acceptance even in Simon who exclaims that even in his unchangeable condition, Charlie remains his own and that he would be mean if he did not look after his own. It depicts a sense of mutual respect and responsibility where each knows their limit. It goes without saying that this sense and feeling is the most essential in building good and trusted family relationships. She is quick to own up when reprimanded by her husband of her failure to observe the doctor’s advice.
It stands to reason that there are some particular demands that a disabled child may have, despite one’s time and energy. Undoubtedly, bringing up two teenagers whereby one is fighting for his way and recognition and the other is physically challenged is an uphill task for an expectant mother. Maggie has to develop means to adapt or equivalently cope with the situation in order to live a befitting quality life. According to Folkman and Lazarus, (cited in Cummings et al1991, p.92) ‘coping is psychologically viewed as constantly changing cognitive and behavioural to manage specific external or internal demands that are appraised as taxing’. These psychological mechanisms expended consciously by the victim are usually termed as coping strategies (Barkway 2009) meant to alleviate a particular circumstance such as stress (Carver and Connor 2010, pp679-704). According to Carver and Connor (2010, pp679-704), the ‘coping responses are partly influenced by personality (habitual traits) but also partly by the social context, particularly the nature of the stressful environment.’
Though, the movie does not clearly depict Maggie as a stressed up character, it is almost certain that she is under strain and has to employ external measures to meet the demands that come along with parenting. She is faced with a challenge of one teenager with autism, a mental health problem that disorients one’s coordinating capability that is very difficult to manage being a person of a weak will, shortly speaking, being a pessimistically oriented person. Charlie who is 18 years old often finds himself in rather abnormal behaviour such as excreting on the carpet and proceeds to smear it. In other circumstances, he dashed out of the house half naked and during Thomas birthday he acted rather inhumanly to the extent that there emerged a fight that culminated to him being hospitalised. This placed a taxing demand on Maggie to ensure the security and identity of Charlie amidst rejection from a frustrated teenager and a brother. Having to attend to Charlie strained her emotionally, though at the impulse of love, she forges on to affirm his place in the family.
According to the Australian Medical Association (2007), among the many social determinants of health is stress that may result from both social and psychological circumstances as in Maggie’s cases. Maggie tries to create the most comfortable conditions for a disabled child but it is not really easy for her as it does not depend just on her. Accordingly, the inappropriate and regular activation of the body’s stress response impacts negatively on the immune system as long-term feelings of stress makes one more vulnerable to such conditions as infections, hypertension and depression (Australian Medical Association 2007). It is in this note that the medics attending to Maggie in her pre-eclampsia condition that advised her to take a bed rest in order to mitigate against it leading to eclampsia and a possible loss of life.
The three faceted Biopsychosocial model (Lyons and Chamberlain 2006, p. 11) coined out by psychologists seeks to unearth and explain the psychological, biological and social factors that ‘play a significant role in human functioning in the context of disease or illnesses as health is best understood in light of these factors’ (Santrock 2007). The biological component of this model evaluates the cause of illness in light of the functioning of the individual’s body. Clearly, Maggie is experiencing some inevitable hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy such as sharp increases in progesterone that alter the functioning of her body (Patisson and Harriet 2007) causing problems such as stress or cognitive overload. Drawing from the psychological component of this model, it could be a possibility that even her condition of pre-eclampsia might have developed as a result of the mental turmoil (Heaney and Israel 2002) this dilemma had on her, as she constantly thought about how Charlie was doing. Owing to the fact that she was in her final gestation days where she needed to rest, the responsibility must have been overwhelming and sucking. Under the social component of the model, factors such as poverty and socioeconomic status could have influenced her health. As is evident from the movie, she lacks a house help that could assist her with house chores as she takes care of her son possibly because she cannot afford to hire one.
All throughout the movie, Maggie is trying to juggle the demands of her family with her needs for time and rest. Maggie through sheer determination has managed to cope with the demands that this special responsibility attracts. It takes a woman of heart and sinews to be able to withstand all the pressure. She seems to understand the concept of social concern that plays a protective role on health and health related problems. But this was not without the moral support of her husband Simon who provides the financial support for the family. At some instance, we see him insisting that she takes a rest as instructed by the doctors and when on the extreme he takes her to hospital and insists that she stays there until delivery. His acceptance and sense of responsibility enables Maggie to carry on strongly rather than feel intimated as a social burden. According to the Australian Medical Association (2007) on the social determinants of health, ‘social support and social relations give people emotional and practical resources as well as a sense of mutual respect where people feel loved and valued.’
During sessions where the boys are bathing, it is a perfect time for the family, and especially for Thomas, to convey his love to Charlie. He has to be there for his elder brother with a purpose of ensuring that he bathes appropriately and, the most important thing, of protecting him from possible harm that Charlie could cause to himself. A person who does not have a sound mind from the medical point of view might do harm, so, it is highly important and advisable to constantly watch such people. It is out of this gestures that Charlie even though dumb would feel the affection of his family and not feel as an outcast. This is so since he is autistic and not able to coordinate properly, he still has feelings as a teenager that needs satisfaction, and if not met from his family members would build up pressure. Bath time is also a time for the coupe also to bond and have a time together and also attend to the newborn baby. It is the best time and the best situation for the whole family to be together and to share that mutual love that sometimes is hidden because of the constant pressure in the family due to such complicated situation.
According to Winkelman (2008), ‘part of the community development of health involves the social distribution of resources and care.’ Social interventions such as ‘resistance resources, psychosocial assets and social support’ that stem from the social and community ties oftentimes cushion some people fro rapid social changes Winkelman (2008). As Heaney and Israel (cited in Winkelman 2008) notes, these social ties are assessed according to the strength of interaction that determines what assistance is actually or potentially availed from the members in the network, in terms of emotional, material, expressive or appraisal. As it is, there is a weak social network from which Maggie could draw social support in caring for Charlie. For instance, it seems there are no schools for neither the disabled or for rehabilitation within her neighbourhood where she could probably take her son for a special care. The community in which she lives depicts a low intensity of emotional closeness and density of interaction as evidently not even a single mother pays her a visit.
Health psychology is a field that any medical practitioner would need to have a closer look upon. From the discourse above, it is clear that Maggie’s health condition of pre-eclampsia was probably related to the mental turmoil that she was going through amidst the challenge of bringing up an autistic son.
Several theories and models such as the cognitive strategy theory and the Biopsychosocial model discussed above have been developed by psychologists in order to explain the health issues as related to psychology. Maggie and her husband have applied cognitive skills to enable them offer love and acceptance in their family. One would not imagine how the situation would be for Charlie supposing that the couple did not take the essential responsibilities. By accepting their son, they have demonstrated that being healthy does not necessarily mean absence of illnesses but also the social aspects of a healthy relationship.
Proper medical attention has been portrayed from the medics concerned by advising on the precautionary measures that Maggie could take to prevent fatal ends. Additionally, the government through the ministries of health ought to put mechanisms in place to cater for the economically disadvantaged class in society in order to ensure cases of Charlie who need special medical attention and special schools are adequately catered for. Further the medical practitioners need to devise policies that safeguard the interests of the disadvantaged not only on physical aspects but also those who are incapacitated in their minds. This is so since whence the mind is functioning properly, then the body will and the vice versa also holds. Though should also organize for medical campaigns and open forums to create awareness in the community of such cases as autism. Finally, the society needs to understand the health challenged among them and instead of socially excluding them, they should demonstrate an amicable environment such as exemplified on the case of Jackie.
Arlene, f, & Harder MA 2009, The Developmental Stages of Erik Erikson, Ratlan, Australia.
Australian Medical Association 2007, Social Determinants of Health and the Prevention of Health Inequities – 2007, Web.