A public health model differs from a mental health model in some important respects:
First, it incorporates a variety of strategies for reducing risk for suicide as well as enhancing mental health for the entire campus community. Effective triage and crisis management will still be key components of a comprehensive plan. But the overall picture is much bigger. A public health model adds strategies for early identification and a range of treatment options for mental health concerns. It incorporates education and social marketing to promote protective factors such as life skills, emotional wellness, social connectedness and a willingness to seek help when needed.
Second, a public health model is data driven. Surveys, focus groups, interviews, etc. are used to identify specific needs, challenges and strengths, which then guide program planning.
Third, a public health approach is multidisciplinary. It brings in people from many different campus roles; including educators, administrators, counselors and staff from campus security, judicial affairs, residence life, etc. By broadening the base of support for this important aspect of campus life, it becomes the work of the entire community. It’s simply too big a job for one office to manage effectively.
We are on a treadmill to nowhere if all our efforts are directed at helping individual victims. It is a well known public health doctrine that no mass disorder afflicting humankind has ever been eliminated or brought under control by treatment of affected individuals. Only successful efforts at primary prevention reduce the rate of distress in the future.
George Albee, Ph.D.