Why Mental Health Should Be A Public Health Need

The global health crisis has inspired epidemiologists and virologists from across the globe to come together to find combat Covid-19.  around the world are scrambling to understand and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Other researchers have rallied in response to the global health crisis, but their “enemy” is different: the mental health pandemic. The novel coronavirus has forced us to live with social isolation, uncertainty over our employment, and fear of Covid-19 itself. This has triggered fear, grief, job loss, and uncertainty, among many people. A report by Qualtrics refers to the mental health crisis as “the Other Covid-19 crisis”. Qualtrics found that nearly 42% of people reported suffering a deterioration in their mental health since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, the proportion of people who reported their mental health at the lowest level, doubled during the pandemic. The irony is that the public health measures taken to ensure our physical health are bad for our mental health. In this article, we will argue that just as physical health is a public health need, mental health should be a public health need. 

Our health care systems and public health policy are geared almost exclusively toward combating physical health problems. They do not take into account that mental health is not only a part of one’s overall health, the state of your mental health can directly impact your physical health. Depression and other negative mental health states are associated with heart problems and other physical ailments. On the other hand, optimism and other negative mental health states are associated with a healthy heart and fewer physical ailments. So, health care systems and public health policy should be designed so as to combat mental health issues. Not doing that leaves an important determinant of physical health untouched. Improving public mental health can lead to healthier hearts and healthier bodies. 

The country is already moving in the direction of recognizing the importance of dealing with mental health at a policy level. An example of this at the federal level is the passage of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 which designated a 988 national suicide prevention lifeline in Colorado in order to help health care professionals quickly provide support to people suffering from mental health problems and suicidal feelings. 

In Colorado, in recognition of this close relationship between physical and mental health, state senator Chris Kolker has introduced a bill that attempts to bridge the gulf in policy between the two. Senate Bill 154, known as “988 Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network” implements the 988 national suicide prevention lifeline in Colorado. 

By treating mental health problems as part of a broader public health policy, the stigma of mental health problems will certainly be reduced. Many people remain underserved by mental health care professionals because they lack access, but also because shame prevents them from seeking treatment. 

In Georgia, LPC licensure requirements have allowed the state to build an extra layer of support for the mental healthcare system. When the global health crisis began, researchers started sending out questionnaires to people in China. About half a dozen studies that had more than 10,000 respondents found that respondents were suffering from worse mental health problems than they had prior to the pandemic. They suffered from high symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and stres. Nearly half of respondents had high symptoms of depression (results vary according to the study), while as many as 35% had severe anxiety. These results have been replicated across the globe. It’s important that authorities start to treat mental health issues as seriously as they do physical health problems.