Public Mental Health
“Oh well, we’ve all got to die of something!”
This may be a cliché, but it also captures an attitude increasingly engrained in our culture. More than ever, people are striving for a full life, not simply a long life. They are joining Hunter S. Thompson in his view that
As societal attitudes have shifted this way, Public Health advice and guidelines have increasingly been linked in the eyes of society with an unfulfilled, even miserable existence. This may be untrue, and possibly unfair, yet it’s undeniably an increasingly popular view that we can’t just defiantly ignore any longer.
So how can Public Health practitioners free themselves of this negative association without dropping the ball when it comes to the nation’s health?
One answer may lie in the growing position of mental health in our field. Increasingly, both Public Health research and policy has embraced mental health as a primary consideration.
For example, there is now Public Health guidance on the improvement of mental health outcomes at every stage of life, from the promotion of emotional well-being in under 5s through to guidance on mental wellbeing and older people (see the Faculty of Public Health Website for a full list). Improved mental well-being is now a well-established benefit of physical health improvement initiatives such stop smoking or physically activity programmes, just as changes in mental health are in turn a determinant of physical health outcomes.
All this forms a strong foundation for an explicit repositioning of Public Health in the perception of society. In other words, an image change is long overdue. By focusing equally (if not primarily) on psychosocial well-being rather than life years and mortality, the field of Public Health will find itself more in line with societal values, more able to positively engage the public, and ironically better placed to achieve the physical health improvement it has traditionally striven for.