Why Population Health Must Focus on the Physical and Mental Wellbeing of Communities


Earlier this week, President Trump proclaimed May 2017 as National Mental Health Awareness Month, stating “This month, and for the course of my Administration, I am committed to working with the Department of Health and Human Services, States, and communities throughout the country to find a better answer for the millions of Americans who need mental health services and their families. We must further empower States, law enforcement, first responders, doctors, and families to help those with the most severe mental illnesses; to ensure that people with mental illness have access to evidence-based treatment and services; and to fight the stigma associated with mental illness, which can prevent people from seeking care.” President Trump continued, “We must also resolve to enhance our understanding of mental illness and its relationship to other complex societal challenges, including homelessness, substance abuse, and suicide.”

Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May in the United States since 1949 to help bring awareness to millions of people suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults in America experience some form of mental illness and nearly 1 in 25 adults live with a serious mental illness. In addition, mental illness is prevalent among many of the vulnerable or high-risk individuals in our communities. According to NAMI approximately:

  • 2 million adults have co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders
  • 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with a serious mental illness
  • 24% of individuals in state prisons have a recent history of a mental health condition

Health and human services leaders now understand that in order to achieve long-term, sustainable, and positive results for individuals with complex health and psychosocial disorders, we must treat the whole person instead of individual conditions. The phrase “population health” is increasingly used to describe the process of bringing together healthcare delivery systems, public health agencies, behavioral health, social services, and other community health providers to improve health outcomes by focusing on preventive care and wellness. Some of the broad range of services that promote both physical and mental wellbeing include:

  • Individual, family, and group counseling
  • Recovery support services
  • Case management and care coordination
  • Nutrition
  • Housing
  • Job training
  • Education
  • Transportation

States, counties, and healthcare organizations across the country are adopting and supporting wellness and prevention programs that use a range of primary, behavioral, and social service interventions to keep people healthy and avoid hospitalizations. A great example is Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

Kaiser Permanente Colorado focuses on the early detection of mental illness by integrating behavioral health screening and services into primary-care visits. According to Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson, “Just like we do in any other situation where you see your primary-care physician and say, “I’m having knee pains” and he or she might go down the hall and ask the orthopedic surgeon to come in and take a look at it, we want to do the same thing with integrated behavioral health and psychiatry services.”

In order to help promote National Mental Health Awareness Month, Kaiser Permanente Colorado partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Crisis Text Line, and Mental Health America on a public health awareness campaign to provide basic information about depression, offer resources, and engage the public in a conversation about mental health and wellness. In addition, in August 2017 Kaiser Permanente will award five Colorado school districts a combined $1.5 million in behavioral health grants.

This month communities across the nation seek to emphasize the importance of treating mental illness as part of the overall goal of achieving stronger and healthier individuals, families, and communities. We would like to give a shout out to the wonderful organizations who continuously dedicate themselves to helping individuals with mental illness through coordinated care.

Blog Resources






More Topics

While many children in low-income households benefit from school breakfast and lunch programs, many of them lose that benefit over the summer break. However, community care coordination among organizations that …

The relationship between law enforcement and people experiencing behavioral crises or homelessness can be tense, sometimes escalating to the use of force and leaving root causes unaddressed. However, communities across …

Case management for refugee services is an essential part of making sure these vulnerable populations can integrate into American society culturally, economically, and legally. Without effective case management, services are …

Contact Us


Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for health and human service organizations. You'll learn from our experts and partners on best practices, industry news, and never-before-seen resources!