Mental Health

ssThere is no health without mental health.

Approximately 1 in 2 people in the US will experience a mental health condition at some point in their life. These conditions (e.g., autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, dementia) are among the leading causes of disability globally. Mental health is influenced by environmental, social, behavioral, biological, and genetic factors. Depression, anxiety, and feelings of emotional distress are now recognized as important contributors to medical morbidity (e.g., development of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dementia) throughout the life course. Psychiatric and substance use disorders increase risk of suicide, which is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. Finally, social and contextual factors substantially impact disparities in mental health and substance misuse over the lifespan.

Population mental health is a complex area of study for many reasons: Psychiatric and substance use disorders are stigmatized and therefore under-reported. Most people with a mental health condition never receive adequate treatment, which means that studies which rely on healthcare records under-estimate prevalence. Social and cultural factors influence both the expression and experience of psychological distress, which means that survey instruments may need to be adapted and validated in specific subpopulations to yield meaningful estimates. Many of the symptoms of mental disorders are non-specific (e.g., sleeping disturbances, unexplained fatigue) and overlap with medical problems, posing a challenge to measurement. As a result, a comprehensive understanding of the determinants of population mental health requires bridging multiple disciplines and leveraging innovative methodologic tools.

CSEPH faculty are leading several research projects aimed at understanding the determinants of population mental health over the life course. These research activities address a range of questions including: What is the role of psychological distress on the development of, and disparities in, type 2 diabetes? What are the biological, behavioral, and social pathways linking depression and medical conditions in mid- and late-life? How to major life transitions in later life (e.g., moving, employment changes) impact suicidal behavior? How does the measurement of depression change over the life course? How do neighborhood characteristics influence drug use? What are the risk factors for developing depression after a stroke? How do environmental exposures, such as food insecurity, relate to mental health?