393: Mental Health is Public Health, Washington Post Opinion

On Day Four of National Public Health Week, Dr. Mark Levine, Commissioner of Health at the Vermont Department of Health, says mental health must be considered if we want to advance public health; Kate Woodsome with the Washington Post discusses key...

On Day Four of National Public Health Week, Dr. Mark Levine, Commissioner of Health at the Vermont Department of Health, says mental health must be considered if we want to advance public health; Kate Woodsome with the Washington Post discusses key points she included in an opinion article written about the nation's teen mental health crisis; ASTHO President Dr. Anne Zink and ASTHO Past President Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott discuss ways to support people working in public health; and ASTHO announces Guidehouse, a leading healthcare consulting firm, as a Gold Sponsor at the Public Health TechXpo and Futures Forum scheduled for next month in Chicago and online.

NPHW Daily Theme: Mental Health

Kate Woodsome- American teens are unwell because American society is unwell

The Exodus Of State And Local Public Health Employees: Separations Started Before And Continued Throughout COVID-19

Public Health TechXpo and Futures Forum

Guidehouse Healthcare Consulting 



ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, April 6, 2023. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.



Well, the very first thing I think of—since the pandemic is still barely in our rear-view mirrors—is how COVID both challenged and worsened our collective mental health, but also how it called it out and put it on everyone's radar. Because I think we can all agree that mental health has really had a bit of a second-class citizen status.


On day four of National Public Health Week, Vermont health commissioner Dr. Mark Levine recalls the World Health Organization's definition of health.


They defined health probably 80 years ago as a state of complete physical, social, and mental wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity. So as public health is so integrally involved in advancing health, it must—by definition—embrace mental health. And think how this topic interfaces with so many of the other daily topics during Public Health Week: things like violence prevention, reproductive health and sexuality, world health, and accessibility, for sure.


Vermont, according to Levine, employs several programs to improve the mental health of people living in the state.


Some of those are improving the 988 number and other rapid response modalities and developing a community-wide perspective on prevention like Zero Suicide.

But a unique one to Vermont is Facing Suicide VT, which is a new website which puts resources, personal stories, and ways for people to get help and give help in one location. The intent here is really to break down stigma, provide concrete resources such as training for organizations, expand peer supports for people who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide or for those who are in families who have lost someone to suicide, and supporting improved suicide prevention practices in emergency departments.


The American Public Health Association has identified seven themes to examine this week. We began our coverage Monday. We wrap up on Tuesday next week.

You can read more about the week's events and topics using the link in the show notes.



The piece I wrote is called "American teens are unwell because American society is unwell," and it is pegged to news out of the CDC that shows a really distressing trend that young people, particularly girls, have some of the highest levels of suicidal ideation that we've ever seen.


Kate Woodsome is a producer, writer, and director at The Washington Post. She sees many opportunities to improve teen mental health.


We need to acknowledge that mental health is personal, but it's not an individual problem. And I think that the big lie is that I alone caused this problem and I alone can fix it, or I should fix it by myself. But the reality is, is that family stress and trauma, social inequality, access to care—they all contribute to how good or bad my mental health is, your mental health is.


Woodsome echoes public health leaders in understanding a person's early experiences and the many ways they can impact their lives today.


I think we need to learn about and integrate adverse childhood experiences into everything we do. You know, public health officials I think all need to be integrating the idea of adverse childhood experiences into how they make decisions and policies.


Woodsome agrees that treating factors like income housing and other social determinants can go a long way toward relieving stress and anxiety among those in a community.


It sounds almost cheesy, but we need to get back to the basics. Because we are in crisis, and if we don't start to reach out and help somebody or start to be brave enough to say, "I need help," the gulf between us and the formal mental health system could swallow us, I think.


You can read Woodsome's article written for The Washington Post using the link in the show notes.


Also today, ASTHO leaders weighed in this week on the challenges of recruiting, retaining, and supporting people working in public health. ASTHO President Dr. Anne Zink and ASTHO past president Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott joined a panel hosted by Health Affairs.

Zink says there are concerns, but she also encouraged the online audience to tell the story about public health.


I think that we need to bring up the joy and the incredibly profound, amazing opportunity that it is to work within public health. I mean, it has been the greatest opportunity of my lifetime that I wouldn't trade for anything. And I think we need to share those stories more.


Alexander-Scott said there's opportunity to support people who are either new to the field or just launching their careers.


Thinking about, you know, just the mindset, the energy, the creativity that that generation brings to the work—as leaders, we have the opportunity to somewhat block and tackle. Some of it sometimes needs to be refined and supported because it is in this larger system, but what are some things we can move out of the way that allow for them to really thrive?


The panel considered a report about workforce job losses co-authored by ASTHO CEO Dr. Mike Fraser, de Beaumont Foundation president and CEO Dr. Brian Castrucci, and others.

You can read the article using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, ASTHO has announced a Gold sponsor for the Public Health TechXpo and Futures Forum happening next month in Chicago.

Guidehouse brings together public and commercial healthcare organizations, offering a 360 degree approach to solving complex challenges. You can meet Guidehouse at the Xpo. The event is in-person and online. Look for links to the event page and the Guidehouse website in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Kate Woodsome

Senior Editor, Opinions Video and Visual Enterprise, The Washington Post

Nicole Alexander-Scott MD MPH

Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health

Anne Zink MD FACEP

Chief Medical Officer for the State of Alaska

Mark Levine MD

Commissioner of Health, Vermont Department of Health