Equal health for all, regardless of social status! It’s a noble call today in response to a widening social status gap in our country. The Affordable Care Act is one effort to try to answer it. The premise certainly seems reasonable: One’s health is determined by his physical access to modern medical services. The rich have access; the less rich have less access, or none. Health advantage: the rich, right?
Not so fast. There’s more to status and health than access to medical services, according to research at the University of Richmond.
“Psychosocial stress,” independent of income, creates the risk of disease equally in both high and low status groups, according to UR’s Dr. Christopher von Rueden. High income, he concludes, “will not insulate you from stress-related health issues if you constantly compare yourself to those with even higher status than you. There are even studies that suggest being a Nobel Prize or Academy Award runner-up increases subsequent morbidity relative to winning. So, it’s not just absolute status, but also how you perceive your status relative to others.”
How we perceive our status relative to others—that’s a self-imposed gap we can close without a bigger paycheck! One way to do it, according to Dr. von Rueden: “focus more on what we have rather than what we don’t.”
I learned this lesson growing up in a fine but barely middle class family. Life seemed always framed by finances. Occasionally there would be passing remarks on so-and-so who lived in a large home and drove a Buick. We lived in a smaller home and drove the most inexpensive Plymouth and made it last. Those other people were higher status. We were somehow subordinate. I remember as a boy feeling uncomfortably anxious about it whenever meeting such folks.
Until the day when my mother asked my dad, “Charlie, don’t you feel anxious being with ‘upper class’ people?” (Through church, they had begun to mix with several.) “Rich people need friends, too,” he said. That pure and sincere logic—I feel—melted the “status barrier” for my family and me from that point on. Empowerment replaced self-imposed subordination. We could love. Love was our common denominator. We all need it. It comes from the same source—our Divine Creator. We all can give and share it, regardless of status.
This was a game changer for me. I began to feel we were equal in a very meaningful way, and I can say that I very much noticed status tensions (psychosocial stress?) dissolve in our family over the years following that moment. Abundance—not always in material form—replaced tension. Grace and being comfortable with all status groups replaced awkward anxiety. Qualities such as love became kind of a spiritual currency that redefined our status. And—I don’t believe coincidentally—we enjoyed extraordinarily good health.
Increasingly, research underscores the need to look beyond mere access to medical services as a solution to better health care. Canada’s Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, for example, recently found that even with equal access to medical services over a ten-year period, “…service use by people with lower incomes and less education had little impact on their poorer health outcomes, particularly mortality.”
Richmond University looked beyond physical access to resources. It’s research points to the need for mental resources to defeat “psychosocial stress” in order to produce healthier bodies.
To meet this need, we are more equipped with mental resources than we might realize. We can trace our original status to our Divine Source and find equal access to honesty, integrity, love, and opportunities to share them. We can recognize that each of us has the equal and permanent status of the spiritual image and likeness of the same equally loving Father-Mother. We can break the stress barrier and replace social inferiority with spiritual equality. This can be an effective path to finding equal access to better health.