Watch videos from this year's Opening Session on APHA's YouTube channel!
Community. It was the thread that tied this afternoon's Opening Session together. Whether it was mental illness, health policy, social justice, health reform or the nation's natural wonders, it all came back to community — back to the notion that we all rise and fall together, that together we can shape our futures into better ones.
First up: Healthy communities promote healthy minds. That's where Pamela Hyde, administrator of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, came in to make the case that behavioral health is today's No. 1 public health challenge. By 2020, she said, mental health and substance abuse disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide, and more than half of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness in their lifetimes. In addition, drug-related deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities, and deaths by suicide outnumber homicides and deaths from HIV/AIDS. One suicide happens in the United States every 15 minutes. (Wow. This blogger had no idea.)
Fortunately, community-based approaches do make a difference, Hyde said. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans living with mental illness and substance abuse disorders do not get the treatment they need. While most Americans know at least something about things like first aid and basic nutrition, most don't know the signs of addiction and mental illness. But we want to change that, Hyde told attendees, we want to take a public health approach to the problem and begin a national dialogue.
"We want to engage you around this wicked problem," she said. "There is no health without mental health."
Next up: Healthy communities promote healthy bodies. Introducing Jonathan Jarvis, 18th director of the National Park Service. Now, you're probably asking yourself: What's this park ranger doing at the Opening Session? Well, it turns out the National Park Service wants to help you prevent poor health (and forest fires, of course.)
"There is a connection between our public lands and public health," Jarvis said, adding that the agency is now engaged in efforts to bring the outdoors into the public health discussion.
A few of those efforts include a pilot program that encourages park concessioners to offer nutritious, locally grown food; Park Prescriptions, which provides materials to health professionals that they can pass along to patients about places to enjoy the outdoors (Jarvis said he likes to call the effort "take a hike and call me in the morning"); and Let's Move Outside, a campaign administered by the U.S. Department of Interior. Today, Jarvis said, the National Park Service is seeking new partnerships in the health community to help strengthen the connections between public lands and the opportunities for better health.
"When you consider the power of the outdoors...you simply cannot come up with a health care investment that will yield a better return," he said.
Now it's time to tie it all together: Advocacy promotes healthy communities, minds and bodies. This may be the most frustrating part, especially in today's political climate. Luckily, we're witnessing transformative changes thanks to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, said session speaker Tom Daschle, former U.S. Senate majority leader. While we've still not convinced all Americans that "good health should be a right, not an option," there is consensus on a number of issues, such as the lack of transparency in the health system and the need for payment reform, he said. Whether we're successful in bringing prevention, health and wellness to all will depend on five factors, Daschle said: resiliency, innovation, engagement, advocacy and collaboration.
"We need you," he urged attendees. "The question is, will you be here?"
We will if APHA President Linda Rae Murray has anything to do about it.
"Stand up and insist on the impossible," she told Opening Session attendees. "Demand freedom now, demand peace now, demand justice now."
So, fair readers, what did you think of this year's Opening Session?
P.S. Check out videos from this year's Opening Session at APHA's YouTube channel.
P.P.S. Check out more Opening Session coverage over at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's NewPublicHealth.org.
Above, from top to bottom: Opening Session speakers Tom Daschle, Jonathan Jarvis and Pamela Hyde. Photos courtesy Jim Ezell/EZ Event Photography