26 October, 2018 by Dr Stephen Carbone, Director
Population mental health – what is it and why is it important?
As a GP I spent my career trying to assist people with health and mental health conditions.
My focus was on providing one-to-one and family healthcare services designed to get people well – taking a history, conducting a physical or mental state examination, ordering imaging or pathology if required, making a diagnosis and explaining it, and working with my patients to agree on treatment or a management plan. It was all about individual relationships and personalised healthcare.
Nowadays, I’m involved in health in a very different way.
Population health (also called public health) is about the big picture. It looks at health from the perspective of the community rather than the individual.
It’s not that population health isn’t interested in people – quite the contrary – it’s just that it recognises that what’s good for one person is likely to be good for others as well. It focuses on health interventions, health services, health systems and health policies designed to assist the many, as well as the individual. Crucially, it also focuses on preventing health and mental health conditions – something that one-to-one healthcare is paradoxically less well equipped to achieve.
The area of population health I’m involved in is population mental health, which is simply how these big picture issues apply to mental health, and the issue that I’m particularly interested in is, how can we promote mental wellbeing and prevent mental health conditions from occurring in the first place?
One of the things that appeals about this issue and this approach is that it enables me to focus on individuals and what each of us can do to look after our mental wellbeing and reduce our chances of experiencing a mental health condition as well as focusing on what we as a community need to do to achieve these things.
Things like reducing childhood traumas like neglect or physical or sexual abuse, or stamping out domestic violence, bullying, racism, homophobia, transphobia and discrimination, or tackling job stress, unemployment, homelessness and poverty, or working to reduce loneliness, social isolation and social exclusion. All these things are linked to an increased risk of mental health conditions and addressing these things will have a massive benefit for everyone’s mental wellbeing and improve everyone’s life. Indeed, the thing about population mental health that’s both challenging and exciting is that being successful can lead to a better society as well as to better individual health. So while it’s less one-on-one than being a GP, it’s just as important and just as rewarding because if we get it right, we can keep a whole community well.
If this resonates with you, then I encourage you to get involved.
Population mental health is a great career path for any health professional interested in the big picture, an exciting new frontier for anyone who has studied health promotion or public health, a wonderful issue to contribute to as a volunteer and a really worthwhile cause to donate to!
Population mental health needs you!!