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Racism Plays Major Role In Determining Mental Health

CHICAGO--Following the success of its annual conference, titled “The Social Determinants of Mental Health: From Awareness to Action,” the Institute on Social Exclusion (ISE) at the Adler School of Professional Psychology is forming a Working Group to develop a Mental Health Impact Assessment tool. The purpose of the tool is to help communities, policy makers and program developers make decisions that promote good mental health by assessing the community mental health effects of “non-health” decisions such as a school closing or construction of a “big box” store in a low-income neighborhood.

“Do we want to spend $30,000 a year keeping someone incarcerated, or do we want to spend the money getting them educated, preventing them from going to jail in the first place?”

Attendees of the conference committed to increase understanding and to create innovative strategies to address the impact of social conditions on mental health. Conference organizers noted that the best way to support good mental health outcomes is through the establishment of “unlikely alliances” among diverse professions, including experts in housing, transportation, public health, education, economic development, law enforcement, urban planning, and faith communities.

An estimated 240 people participated in the June conference, which featured keynote speaker David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., the 16thSurgeon General of the United States and a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) Commission on the Social Determinants of Health. The social determi

nants of mental health include food security, employment status, economic conditions, and violence.

“We need a movement that places fair health, fairer distribution of health and better overall population health at the head and heart of governance,” said Dr. Satcher.

Although not often cited as a social determinant of mental health, racism is a major issue, noted conference panelist Gail C. Christopher, D.N., vice president for Programs, Food, Health and Well-Being for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which recently announced a $75 million initiative to promote racial healing. “The primary impact of racism is on mental well-being,” said Dr. Christopher.

Speakers emphasized that mental illness has tremendous societal costs. “Do we want to spend $30,000 a year keeping someone incarcerated, or do we want to spend the money getting them educated, preventing them from going to jail in the first place?” said speaker Terry Mason, M.D., chief medical officer of the Cook County Health System, Chicago.

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