Social Determinants of Health

Health, according to the World Health Organization, is “the state of total physical, mental and emotional well-being and not just the absence of illness and disease.” Different definitions have been employed over time for various purposes. For some people it is the condition that includes all of the basic necessities of life and does not include reliance on other people or on society. For others, health is much more than having a sufficient amount of food, clothing and shelter. Many would define health as having a capacity to enjoy one’s life fully and this is typically described by the ability to get up and do what is required of the person.

The term “mental health” has been in use longer and refers to both mental and emotional health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are six categories of mental health, namely, interpersonal relationships, social support, healthy relationship, coping skills, personality disorders, anxiety and depression. Public health professionals believe that a better understanding of the relationship between mental health and the other categories of wellness is warranted. These relationships may be related to preventive measures, therapeutic interventions and medical treatment. In the United States, the most recent concept linking the two concepts is the idea that mental health is influenced by the state of the economy.

Since the American government does not provide funding for many of the activities that address health equity and the issues of those who fall between the ladders of opportunity, many public agencies and private organizations have taken on the responsibility of ensuring that the population is healthy and has access to quality health care. Some of these organizations work with local communities to address the issues of poverty and housing status. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a number of programs that seek to eradicate structural barriers to entry and progress. More information about this can be found at HUD website: link. Likewise, there are a number of non-profit organizations, which offer support for those who would like better access to health care and affordable housing. Among these are: AIDS Project, American Indian Health Services Association, Hispanic/ Latino Advancement and Educational Services, and United Way Secure Housing for All.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is an institute of the National Institutes of Health. Among its various areas of focus are understanding the causes of mental disorders and associated factors, exploring interventions, developing and promoting preventive services, and examining treatments used in treating these disorders. Among its many grants are grants for social determinants of health. One of these grants is for research and development in the field of social determinants of health.

Public health professionals also participate in national programs to address health equity. These include national programs for smoking cessation and intervention, development of policies to implement community-based interventions geared toward preventing health problems, development of strategies for promoting community-wide participation in health promotion and disease prevention, and implementation of a national strategy for health equity. Among these strategies is the PHEAC or the Public Health Employment Opportunities Act. This is a legislation that aims to improve the employment opportunities for social determinants of health. The program provides grants to eligible organizations.

Although health problems have risen out of poverty and lack of good health practices, the fact remains that health problems can affect more than just health and physical well-being. Mental health has become an important issue, and mental health therapy and counseling is a promising practice to remedy health issues. With a combination of support and community action, the goal is to ensure that everyone gets the chance to enjoy good health, good habits, and positive interactions.