National Public Health Week is April 2-8 with each business day dedicated to a leading public health issue. Monday, April 2 is focused on behavioral health, a topic historically left to human services agencies focused on treatment and intervention. HMA’s work in healthcare and delivery system reform is well known, but HMA is also engaged in public health projects and work focused on the intersection of public health and behavioral health.
There is a growing understanding that mental health is important to overall health, including improving physical health. There is also an increasing exploration of the role that public health practitioners and agencies play in improving mental health. The public health approach provides an understanding of the associated risk and protective factors for mental health, the health disparities associated with mental and substance use disorders, and the relationship between mental health and other public health concerns like obesity and chronic disease.
Poor mental health, mental illness, and substance use disorders exact a large toll on individuals, relationships, communities and society overall. Mental disorders represent four of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide. Nearly 18 percent of adults in the U.S. reported having a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder during 2015. In 2014, an estimated 22.5 million Americans age 12 and older self-reported needing treatment for alcohol or illicit drug use, and 11.8 million adults self-reported needing mental health treatment or counseling in the past year. By 2020, it is projected that mental and substance use disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide. Nearly every state in the county is seeing an upward trend in indicators for heroin and prescription opiate abuse and fatal overdoses. Many states are experiencing growing suicide and violence rates.
All people have biological, psycho-social and psychological characteristics that make them vulnerable to, or resilient to, behavioral health issues, and this degree of vulnerability or resilience can change over a lifetime. Each of these characteristics can be impacted by various contextual factors such as personal relationships, community and societal support and prevention efforts, broad environmental factors, and social determinants like discrimination, poverty and access to healthcare. This is where the public health sector comes in. Public health practitioners can lead efforts to promote health and prevent behavioral health conditions across multiple contexts. Examples of multiple contexts include increasing parent-infant bonding, changing norms in the business sector to support self-care and help-seeking, or supporting anti-discrimination laws or policies. Effective population-based behavioral health promotion should include strategies to address the determinants of mental health.
HMA’s Denver office has been fortunate to be included in several projects that address the intersection of public health and behavioral health, including a statewide environmental scan and gap analysis of Colorado’s efforts to address behavioral health promotion and prevention efforts in the state. This environmental scan and gap analysis led to the development of a statewide call to action which outlined steps to improve behavioral health in Colorado, with a particular focus on boys and men- who are disproportionately represented in the state’s high suicide and opioid overdose rates.
For more information about HMA’s public health work related to behavioral health, contact HMA Principal Shannon Breitzman at [email protected].
 World Health Organization, The world health report 2001 – Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope, (Geneva: 2001).
 Kamal et al, Cost and Outcomes of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders in the U.S.
 “Prevention” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), https://www.samhsa.gov/prevention