Taking a Public Health Approach to Mental Health

A Public Health Approach to Children’s Mental Health: A Conceptual Framework” was published by Georgetown in 2010. Since that time, the Change Matrix Public Health Group, a partnership between Change Matrix and Searchlight, has presented at conferences and to agencies, worked with communities to integrate the framework into their system work, collected stories of other communities using the framework and developed a series of webinars that present the framework in an accessible format.

These experiences have provided us with some lessons learned. For starters, we have learned that the framework for a public health approach to mental health is not a replacement for system of care. If the framework is presented as something new, or an addition, it can be overwhelming. Communities can have a difficult time sorting out how they think about SOC, a PH approach, and other models and approaches. In fact, a public health framework expands the reach of a more traditional MH system approach to all children, more community participants and a broader continuum of interventions.

The other thing we have learned is that it is important to explore the issues and circumstances that motivate community partners to come together. For some, the call to action is a grant that motivates the community to see its population and services in a different way. For others, it is an opportunity to collaborate on a collective response. Using the framework has allowed community partners to learn from each other and truly collaborate to create a wide response that addresses the entire population and continuum of need.

In 2014, Change Matrix is looking forward to supporting states and communities as they support the mental health of all of their young people in environments where young people are, in ways that promote positive mental health and address mental health problems, with the involvement of multiple stakeholders and adapted for local conditions.