social determinants of mental health - Large group of people seen from above gathered together in the shape of a human head with brain

You may be hearing a lot about “social determinants.” Although much has been written on this subject, many unanswered questions remain.

The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health just announced the awarding of over $1 million in grants to strengthen integrated health care programs at medical schools with the aim of eliminating disparities by addressing the social determinants of mental health. The grants reflect the foundation’s growing interest in community-level factors that influence individual mental health and wellness, as well as build upon the foundation’s history and work in integrated health care, peer support, and recovery in Texas.

What Are Social Determinants?

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are “the structural determinants and conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.” They include factors like socioeconomic status, education, the physical environment, employment, and social support networks, as well as access to health care. Typically, issues that go well beyond the scope of the traditional health care encounter between provider and client. SDOMH are factors that can influence and impact a person’s overall mental health and wellness.

So you might ask: how can we optimize the health care system to address the SDOMH and ensure we provide whole health to persons with physical and mental health needs, while also addressing the conditions that potentially impact a person’s ability to thrive in their own community? The combination of integrated health care, peer support and recovery orientation is an approach that holds tremendous promise to address the SDOMH and health equity.

The awards to two medical schools, Dell Medical School and the University of The Incarnate Word, whose activities focus on the SDOMH in the academic training of the next generation of health care providers, is an exciting step towards achieving health equity. A third grant, to Mental Health America of Greater Houston, will coordinate a community of practice between the two medical schools, foster shared learning and collaboration, and document efforts and successes that can be disseminated more widely.

The Road Ahead

Could the elusive Social Determinants of Mental Health be within our grasp? We do know this: increasing health care providers’ understanding of the SDOMH and implementing a means to address these factors through a warm “hand-off” to peer support personnel is a potential game-changer for the care delivery system.

Dell Medical School and The University of Incarnate Word School of Medicine are in the planning stages of their multiyear grants. We are very excited about this intersection of integrated health care, peer support, recovery and SDOMH. We may be taking more step closer to achieving the real end game: merging the Triple Aim (improving the patient experience, improving the health of populations and reducing health care costs) with health equity. These are exciting times.