Q&A with APHA Annual Meeting Keynote Speaker Pamela Hyde: Communities Are Crucial to Success: Prevention of Mental Illness, Substance Abuse Gaining Recognition

By Tucker, Charlotte | The Nation's Health, October 2011 | Go to article overview
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Q&A with APHA Annual Meeting Keynote Speaker Pamela Hyde: Communities Are Crucial to Success: Prevention of Mental Illness, Substance Abuse Gaining Recognition


Tucker, Charlotte, The Nation's Health


Public health professionals have known for years that behavioral health is essential to health. As that idea becomes mainstream, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is working more closely than ever with state and local health departments to take steps to prevent substance abuse and ensure that treatment for behavioral health issues is effective. SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde, JD, will be a keynote speaker at APHA's 139th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., this month, where she will talk about the intersection of substance abuse and mental health services and public health.

You'll be delivering one of the keynote addresses at the Annual Meeting Oct. 30. What will you focus on?

I like to focus on the fact that behavioral health is essential to health. For a public health conference, I think that's a good message to have. I usually try these days to talk about the context we're in, and frankly that means a context of change, because we're in a major change environment. And then we have a couple of things that we're particularly working on that I'd like to share with this particular group about our quality framework and some public awareness and national dialogue work that we're working on.

What are the biggest issues in mental health and substance abuse prevention?

If I had to boil it down, I think one of the biggest issues is the belief--or lack thereof--or the perception--or lack thereof--that prevention works. Mental health and substance abuse prevention are a little bit late to the game of public health. In decades past they've been seen--by the general public, not public health professionals--as perhaps moral and social problems instead of public health problems. So to get people to understand that there is a prevention science in both substance abuse and in the prevention of a mental illness and in the development of emotional health is, I think, one of our biggest issues. We also have all kinds of technical issues, everything from the way benefits are designed to the way evidence-based practices get developed and then how we get them out into the field.

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The theme for this Annual Meeting is "Healthy Communities Promote Healthy Minds and Bodies." What role do communities play in substance abuse prevention and mental health?

Communities are critical. The health of the community is critical in how the community organizes itself and how it puts an emphasis, or not, on the issue of substance abuse prevention and mental health and emotional development. Obviously, a fair amount of the work on prevention has to happen on the community level. That's part of the reason we've been focusing so much on this issue of how people view behavioral health and how do they view it as an essential part of their community's health.

Could you talk a bit about the connection between substance abuse and mental health?

Substance abuse and mental health are distinct fields and issues, but they're alike in that they both have debilitating results when they're left untreated. (Those issues include) criminal justice issues, homelessness, family issues, community issues. In both cases, people who have these disorders can recover and sometimes the public doesn't always believe that. There are common risk and protective factors, which is pretty clear from the research, and then frankly there is a significant amount of co-occurring disorders. A significant portion of people with substance abuse issues have depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other kinds of mental health disorders, and folks with mental health disorders also have a higher proportion of substance abuse than the general population. There is also a significant amount of similarity in the brain connections and chemicals that are impacted by these disorders.

How will the Affordable Care Act help people with substance abuse and mental health needs?

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