When people speak about the health of the nation, they typically focus on rates of specific diseases and mortality. However, in these overviews, the mental health of the public is often overlooked or ignored.
While understanding how physical ailments are affecting people is important, gaining a holistic view of public health that includes both physical and mental health is even more important. Gaining a deeper understanding of the public through this lens can give people a better perspective on health in the country.
Here is an integrated overview of public and mental health in the US today.
Why public health and mental health are interconnected
In Western medicine, physical health and mental health are typically looked at as distinct, unrelated fields. Unfortunately, as more time goes on, it’s becoming clearer that these two forms of health are inextricably linked. As such, the picture painted by public health reports isn’t accurate if they fail to include mental health info.
For example, it is now accepted that experiences of natural disasters such as climate change can cause both physical and mental health ailments in victims. This highlights the need for a restructured view of how public health should be approached at all stages.
To gain a deeper grasp on why it’s important to champion integrated overviews of health, it can help to understand how deeply connected these two forms of health are. Some ways they’re connected include:
- Poor mental health can cause physical ailments. It’s been shown that poorer states of mental health in people are correlated with a range of physical health ailments. As such, indicating mental health states in public health reports can show a more accurate picture of how at risk people are of developing certain conditions.
- Poor mental health decreases energy and motivation levels. Exercising and engaging in self-care are key components to achieving good physical health. Unfortunately, many mental health ailments have been shown to decrease motivation and energy, making it less likely for those afflicted to take good care of themselves.
- Physical health affects brain chemistry. Different chemicals and hormones that are released in the brain are responsible for different feelings, such as happiness and stress. When people have poor physical health, they may compromise their brain’s ability to produce chemicals that cause them to feel happy and in control of their emotions.
Public health surveillance and its need to prioritise mental health
In public health, there are several phases that experts conduct to identify public health risks and respond to them. The first phase in this process is public health surveillance, which seeks to identify if there is a specific health problem present in large parts of the public.
Unfortunately, this surveillance process typically doesn’t look for mental health ailments. The main reason for this is that public health professionals typically prioritise seeking out physical ailments, causing them to discount the effects that mental health is having on the public.
Another barrier is that it is harder to identify mental health epidemics in the public as many people don’t seek treatment. In addition, many mental health ailments are diagnosed inaccurately, making data on this topic unreliable in many cases.
However, to truly achieve an accurate understanding of public health in America, it’s necessary to gain this information. As such, it’s clear that changes need to be made to make it easier to integrate public and mental health.
Mental health data collection needs to be a priority
Given the fact that mental health data hasn’t been focused on as intently as physical health data, a truly integrated overview of health in the US today hasn’t been possible. However, if public health officials and epidemiology experts prioritise mental health data collection, this could soon change. Hopefully, the infrastructure for collecting mental health data will soon be on par with physical health data collection infrastructures and Americans can finally get an integrated picture of health in their country.
Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.