Coping with serious illness: a conceptual overview

by Anita Stewart

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People who have a serious, possibly life-threatening illness are faced with a number of concerns, including pain, symptoms, finding appropriate medical treatment, financial and social pressures, and possibly death. Coping with illness refers to what a person does in response to all the concerns associated with the illness. How people cope with their illness may be as important as the medical care they receive in determining satisfactory outcomes. Until recently, concepts of health and illness have generally conformed to the medical model, which emphasizes the physiological and biological aspects of disease. This model is gradually being modified into a broader model that adds mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of disease and health. The promotion of health and treatment of disease become a joint effort of the individual, family, medical community, and society. This paper provides a conceptual framework of how people cope with serious illness, a necessary first step in developing reliable and valid measures of the concepts in a patient population.

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