Mental Wellness and Public Health

Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition that is “the absence of illness and infirmity and the best possible degree of health.” Different definitions have been applied to the condition over the years. However, when it comes to health, prevention is always better than cure. So, prevention of health problems is also the watch word of the health care industry. As the baby boomer generation ages, it is important for everyone to take responsibility for their own health.

A common definition used to define health is an ability to be able to provide the basic requirements of life to someone else. Another definition is useful in determining what part of the health care system should be focused on to meet the needs of these aging baby boomers. The definition of “adequate” has been used increasingly over time to describe health care services. It now includes the ability to manage the basic life functions. The ability to participate in community activities, to see a doctor or nurse regularly, to reach a maximum age, to maintain a particular level of physical fitness, and to maintain healthy dietary habits are all key components of the definition.

Most health systems refer to those services which meet the definition of adequate, but not the best. Services that do not meet the standards set forth by the definition are termed inadequate. This can cause providers and insurance companies to be very concerned about providing services for those who would be considered “undesirable,” even if they have one of the other three critical conditions that is addressed by the health system. Those considered “undesirable” are usually the least one group of people who should be seen by a primary care physician.

While the definition for health systems is pretty standard, the service delivery methods of each health system can vary significantly. Those who are most at risk include those who are obese, have smoked for many years, have low levels of exercise, have high blood pressure, have a history of stroke or heart attack, or have diabetes. For these people, it would be beneficial to create a wellness network in which everyone has at least one primary care physician. Those who are at lower risk are encouraged to use the emergency department for routine visits and also to see the doctor or nurse practitioner within thirty minutes of becoming ill. Of course, the goal for this is to reduce the need for emergency room visits as well.

While most people think of illness, disease, and death when they consider public health, mental health is often overlooked in the definition. Mental health is related to three aspects of daily life: mental wellness, interpersonal health, and physical health. Mental wellness includes reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, maintaining cognitive function, meeting needs of people with moderate to severe disabilities, and helping families and friends who are dealing with similar issues. Interpersonal health refers to having a sense of well being and having good relationships and social connections.

In many ways, there are parallels between public health and mental health. Both require reducing the number of new cases of diseases and illnesses, while promoting prevention and early detection through screenings, vaccines, and treatments. As new technologies emerge, they also continue to challenge the definition of what mental health and physical health mean for the betterment of society. With the ever-changing face of technology and the globalization of economies, it has become increasingly important to provide services that extend well beyond traditional medicine to improve the mental health and physical health of all individuals. The efforts to bring these services closer to their communities have, in turn, contributed greatly to public health.